Friday’s vote to pass the House version of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” social spending bill sparked an immediate reaction from Pennsylvania’s elected officials and politicians. Democrats like U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan called it “the largest investment in the middle class in a generation,” while GOP U.S. Senator Pat Toomey denounced it as “radical stuff.”
Details on the tax-and-spend legislation are so unclear its exact price tag is still uncertain, with estimates ranging from $1.5 to $2 trillion in new spending over the next decade. And that’s on top of the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed earlier this year. That brings the House’s one-year spending total to an additional $5.1 trillion
A might be expected, views of the House vote fell along party lines.
“I think that the Democrats in D.C. are tone deaf,” said state Sen. Pro Tempore Jake Corman, (R-Centre), a GOP candidate for governor.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bartos, a Montgomery County businessman, called the bill the ‘Build Back Broke’ spending package.
“Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ ‘Build Back Broke’ legislation is devastating for America’s working families. Rather than dealing with their own self-created inflation and supply chain crises, Democrats in Washington choose to allocate more money to liberal pet projects at the expense of Pennsylvania taxpayers,” said Bartos. “This tax-and-spending legislation is not only unpaid for but will put the burden on our children and grandchildren to pay for this irresponsible governing.”
Democrats, on the other hand, were elated.
“President Biden recognizes that this plan, which includes many issues that I have prioritized throughout my administration, will make child care, home care, education, health care, and housing more affordable for hardworking families, as well as address the climate crisis,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “It will build on the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by investing in the middle class, our economy, and our environment. It gives people the opportunities and resources they need to have a better quality of life.
“The president’s ongoing commitment to addressing climate change will benefit our environment, our economy, and even our utility bills,” Wolf added. In fact, the bill as passed by the House is likely to increase energy prices, many experts agree.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tweeted his support. “Today, the House passed legislation to invest in American children, seniors, families, and workers. The #BuildBackBetter Act would lower costs for Americans, create jobs and strengthen our Nation’s economy.”
His GOP counterpart, Toomey, doesn’t agree.
“This is radical stuff. Let’s be honest. This is transformative by design,” Toomey said. “The Wharton School says this is $4.6 trillion of spending, and . . . it’s mostly about expanding the welfare state to the middle class. [Democrats have] got all kinds of new programs—some don’t even have any income limitation and on those that do, it is extremely high. This kind of total transformation of the relationship between middle-income Americans and the federal government is not what people were voting on in last election.”
Every Pennsylvania Democrat voted for the spending bill while every Republican — including DelVal’s U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — voted against it.
“Regrettably, instead of coming to the table to negotiate on the social spending reconciliation package, House Democratic leadership decided to take the completely opposite approach when they hastily forced Build Back Better through the House on a totally partisan vote,” said Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks). The country would be better served by working on “skyrocketing inflation, workforce shortages, supply chain disruptions, and economic competitiveness with adversaries like Communist China,” he added.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester Co.) was pleased by the outcome.
“At a time when so many Pennsylvanians are feeling the economic pressures of global inflation and rising prices, this bill helps to lower the costs of a household’s biggest expenditures: health care, housing, child care, and more,” Houlahan said in a statement. “The Build Back Better Act is fiscally disciplined while also addressing the most pressing issues of our time.
“For too long, too many hardworking families in Chester and Berks counties have been struggling to stay afloat – and the pandemic further exposed the systemic issues that are shrinking the middle class. But today, we took action to make our economy work for everyone.”
Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware Co.) said the bill “makes the largest investment to combat the climate crisis in history. It will cut pollution, reduce energy costs, and create good-paying jobs through a transformational investment in clean energy.”
And U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) said, “This legislation will lower the cost of child care and family care, lower the cost of health care, and combat climate change. The passage of the Build Back Better Act follows President Biden’s signing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday. Together, the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill will transform our nation’s infrastructure and economy and support working families. The Build Back Better Act is fully paid for through taxes to big corporations and ultra-wealthy Americans.”
Democrats like Dean insist the bill as passed is “paid for,” echoing President Biden’s claim the spending won’t add to the deficit. However, the Congressional Budget Office and nearly every independent fiscal watchdog report the House bill would add at least $100 billion in new debt.
“Democrats have completely abandoned hardworking Pennsylvanians,” said Allie Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, “which is a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and a slap in the face to Keystone staters who are already experiencing skyrocketing prices and economic hardships thanks to Biden. This reckless vote will cost Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Susan Wild, Matt Cartwright, and Conor Lamb their seats next November.”
She predicted it would increase inflation, taxes, and contrary to what Biden said, is not paid for.
“The CBO found that the plan would increase the deficit by $367 billion over a ten-year period. And the Penn-Wharton Budget Model found that the plan would shrink the economy by nearly 3 percent by 2050 if made permanent,” Carroll said.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Toomey says he hopes the process will help Americans learn more about what the bill actually does.
“The American people are not on board on this, so we are continuing to drive the message about how damaging this would be, how much this would cost, how much it would add to inflation, to our deficits, the tax increase. And, this is part of the political process: Have this debate,” Toomey said.