Democrats’ hopes for a quick House passage of their Build Back Better bill ended Thursday night, and Friday morning, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took the floor around 8:30 p.m. and went on… and on… and on.
In total, McCarthy spoke for just over eight and a half hours until after 5 a.m., breaking the record for longest House floor speech. But it wasn’t enough to stop the bill: The House reconvened a few hours later and passed Democrats’ $1.75 trillion climate, social, and tax policy reconciliation bill thats been the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
House Democrats were racing to pass the bill Thursday night shortly after the Congressional Budget Office released figures showing that, with the inclusion of enhanced Internal Revenue Service tax measures in the bill, it would reduce the deficit over ten years—a central demand of conservative House Democrats who cut a deal with House leadership to ensure the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
But while the House has no equivalent of the Senate filibuster, which can and does stop legislation from passing, McCarthy used his privilege as the top Republican in the House to speak for an unlimited amount of time. Ironically, the previous record for longest floor speech was set by his counterpart—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as House minority leader gave an eight-hour-plus speech in support of DACA recipients.
The bill as passed by the House includes four weeks of paid family leave, funding for universal pre-kindergarten, more than $500 billion in climate funding, the ability for Medicare to negotiate the prices of some expensive prescription drugs, and increased Internal Revenue Service enforcement, which the CBO said Thursday would raise more than $200 billion and, over time, reduce the deficit by more than $127 billion through 2031.
McCarthy spent part of his speech on the Build Back Better bill that Congress is debating, at one point saying the bill costs more than it did to win World War II. But he also used the time to lay out a smorgasbord of short- and long-term Republican grievances.
“You're celebrating it when inflation is at a 31 percent high!” McCarthy said at one point. “Gas prices! Thanksgiving! A border that in a few months breaks every record of the last three years combined.”
At another point, McCarthy told a bizarre story about his “friend in the Senate” who was told by a Chinese general that America was “weak because you believe in God and you take fentanyl.”
House Democrats spent much of McCarthy’s speech-time mocking and ridiculing him. When McCarthy quoted a Democratic moderate who said earlier this month that “nobody elected [Biden] to be FDR,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shouted: “I did!” Another Democrat added, “Me too!”
Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, kept a running tally on Twitter whenever McCarthy’s speech eclipsed an album’s running time or length of a movie. The first entry was the Beatles’ “Help!”, and by the time McCarthy was finished, he had spoken longer than the entirety of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“Kevin McCarthy promised he would give us all his wisdom about government,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin tweeted late Thursday. “At 11:30 pm, I don’t know how much wiser we are but we are definitely older.”
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a video from the House cloakroom calling it “one of the worst, lowest quality speeches I have ever had the absolute atrocious lack of privilege to witness.”
McCarthy finally finished his speech shortly after 5 a.m. When the House reconvened the next morning—three hours later—Pelosi referenced his hours-long tirade. “With respect for those who work in this Capitol and as a courtesy to my colleagues, I will be brief,” the House speaker said with a laugh.
The bill passed on a nearly party-line vote, with just one Democrat—Rep. Jared Golden of Maine—voting no because, as he said on Twitter, the bill doesn’t go far enough in taxing the wealthy.
After the bill attained the requisite number of votes after 9:30 a.m., House Democrats erupted in cheers. But while the House may have finally voted to pass the bill, it’s possible we’re nowhere near the finish line.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where the Democrats have the narrowest of margins to pass it—and conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who spearheaded the bipartisan infrastructure bill, have not said whether they’ll vote for passage. Manchin has already said he opposes the inclusion of paid family leave in the bill.
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