The U.S. House of Representatives passed a huge spending bill known informally as the Build Back Better bill, representing the Biden administration’s economic and climate agenda, although victory in the Senate is not at all assured.

The bill authorizes $1.9 trillion in spending. Large though that figure is, it represents only about half the spending contemplated in the earlier drafts. The bill has been whittled down amid a fair amount of rancor between the moderate and the progressive factions within the Democratic Party.   

In the end, the Democratic Party did hold together. There was only one defection from its ranks. Jared Golden (D – Maine), a moderate, joined the Republicans in a “no” vote on the package. 

There were no Republican defectors from the “no” side. Indeed, the vote came soon after the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, blasted in a speech that continued through the night, for eight hours and 32 minutes.

In a statement, Rep. Golden explained his vote, while at the same time suggesting he wants to cooperate with the Biden administration going forward. “[B]orrowing and spending hundreds of billions more in excess of meeting the most urgent needs poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden administration to achieve,” he said. 

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is due for a lot of credit for holding together her party’s sometimes fractious members. As the final vote on the Build Back Better bill (220-213) indicates, she did not have a lot of room for error. 

Among many other features, this bill if it becomes law will be the biggest climate-related spending measure ever. It includes, for example:

– $300 billion in tax incentives for the producers and buyers of ‘green’ sources of power and for electric vehicles
– $29 billion for a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that will help state, nonprofit, and local organizations in their promotion of emissions-reduction technology
– $20 billion in workforce development funding for jobs in the climate resilience space.  

The goal of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill is two-fold, as the administration’s mantra indicates. On the one hand there is the desire to build back, to restore things that have been undermined by the long pandemic and the economic disruption it has created. On the other hand, there is a desire to do it better.

The division between, for example, a progressive such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, say, Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii — a centrist Democrat who voted for the bill — may be the difference between the “better” part of the mantra and the “build back” part.

For months, Build Back Better has been regarded as one of two central pillars of the the domestic policy of President Biden. The other pillar, a spending bill focused largely on “infrastructure” as traditionally understood, passed both the Senate and the House earlier this session. That bill became law with the President’s signature on Nov. 15.

The Build Back Better bill must yet face the Senate, and its fate there is still uncertain. The Senate is split evenly between the two party’s caucuses. The Democratic Party is the majority party there only because Vice President Kamala Harris casts her vote their way in the event of a tie.

After the bill won its preliminary victory in the House, the Senate’s Majority Leader, Charles Schumer, said: “We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk.”

As a budget reconciliation bill, this measure is immune from Republican filibuster. But it must undergo a review by the Senate’s parliamentarian, who must determine that all its provisions are directly related to the issue of budgeting and thus are appropriate for the reconciliation process.