“Kevin McCarthy has now shown more anger about making child care affordable than he has about the insurrection on January 6th,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
The vote timing Thursday was always seen by some as a bit of a Thanksgiving miracle, given many Democrats started the day doubting that the $1.7 trillion legislation would be finished in time for final passage. But two sign-offs came late in the day — with key moderate holdouts privately sounding optimistic — allowing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team to plow ahead earlier than some in the caucus expected.
Democrats did not expect the lengthy floor speech from McCarthy — touching on everything from his desire to own a Tesla to Abraham Lincoln’s assasination to the Los Angeles police department — to derail their best-laid plans. This week marks the third time Democrats have sought to bring their marquee bill to the floor in recent weeks. But this time, it’s the GOP leader, not their own warring factions, that have upended their moment.
“Two parts in history I wish I was part of. I wish I could have been in Tiananmen Square, and I wish I could have been there knocking down the Berlin Wall,” McCarthy said at one point during the rambling speech. He later added that he received his booster shot earlier that day, and that he might have a “little headache now.”
Meanwhile, Pelosi’s office emailed a press release with the subject line, “Is Kevin McCarthy OK?”
With no tools to halt McCarthy’s speech, Democrats instead resorted to mocking the GOP leader, tweeting one-liners and posting video commentary on Instagram Live as midnight approached. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) tweeted: “I must admit Kevin McCarthy has accomplished one thing. America is no longer woke.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) retorted in response: “I delivered a baby in less time.”
Other Democrats were more vocal in their heckling — “keep going, no one’s listening,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) shouted at McCarthy from across the House chamber. Others audibly laughed at the Republican leader.
The McCarthy speech — and Democrats’ voluminous social media response — was a weird turn for a day that until then mostly seemed to be on track for Pelosi and her team.
Earlier in the day, Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeper delivered all of the data that moderates demanded in order to vote, after initially predicting they wouldn’t finish their analysis until Friday. Democrats also cleared another key hurdle on Thursday, receiving a necessary sign off from the Senate parliamentarian that ensures the bill won’t run afoul of filibuster protections when it moves to the upper chamber.
The Congressional Budget Office’s prediction that the package will add $367 billion to the deficit over a decade is the pivotal data point the majority party has waited for since moderate Democrats refused earlier this month to pass the plan without an official price tag.
But that number does not include possible revenue brought in by increased IRS enforcement, meaning the impact on the federal budget gap could be even less. When accounting for that possible extra cash, the deficit increase could total about $160 billion over 10 years. The White House, meanwhile, insists that the IRS enforcement will yield even more revenue, ensuring the bill is actually fully paid for.
The CBO also found that Democrats’ planned expansions of Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and home health care are roughly paid for by other provisions to curb soaring drug prices — including the repeal of a Trump administration drug rebate rule that never took effect.
The cost of the package is certain to change in the upper chamber. Hundreds of billions of dollars in policies like paid leave and immigration are likely to be altered or axed amid resistance from lawmakers and scrutiny from the Senate parliamentarian, who judges which provisions are compatible with the upper chamber’s rules.
“One wonders what the point is, doesn’t one?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said about the House scramble for a cost estimate. “I think at the end of the day, it’s important to price out what we’re going to do.”
Until McCarthy’s turn on the floor, Democrats had seen decidedly low drama this week compared to the months of tense standoffs between the party’s progressive and centrist wings.
Instead, much of lawmakers’ attention was focused elsewhere, primarily on Democrats’ successful effort to censure Rep. Paul Gosar for a cartoon video he posted that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But Democrats are now eager for a different set of headlines. This week’s pivotal vote on Biden’s plan to expand the safety net, which caps eight months of infighting, is a fresh chance for party leaders to promote a bill they see as broadly popular.
The House cleared the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month, a key demand from moderates. Biden signed that legislation Monday.
Between that and having the final cost of the bill in hand, senior Democrats now believe they’ll win over enough of the holdouts. It’s possible Democrats only lose one vote on their side, Golden from Maine, who has continued to complain about some provisions in the bill such as a tax break that would benefit the wealthy.
Republicans have homed in on that provision — Democrats’ push to raise the cap on state and local tax deductions, known as SALT relief — as a potent political attack. While the effort will provide relief to the middle class in states with high property taxes, analysts say it will also be a significant tax cut for the wealthy, undercutting Democrats’ message of “making the rich pay their fair share.”
When the House does ultimately vote, it will be one of Congress’s largest bills in history: A roughly $1.75 trillion measure that touches everything from universal pre-K to health care subsidies for low-income Americans and initiatives to combat climate change. And it comes with high political stakes, with Democrats bear-hugging Biden’s agenda as they defend their perilously thin majority going into the midterms.
Alice Miranda Ollstein, Jennifer Scholtes and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.