More than a year after President Biden clinched the White House on a pledge to “build back better,” House Democrats advanced that promise, voting Friday to approve more than $2 trillion in spending initiatives that would overhaul federal health-care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws.

The measure amounts to a dramatic re-envisioning of the role of government in Americans’ daily lives. It sets aside in some cases historic sums to aid workers, families and businesses, seeking to rewire the very fabric of an economy still recovering from the financial devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The successful 220-to-213 House vote on the Build Back Better Act, bearing the name of the president’s 2020 campaign slogan, marks the second legislative milestone for Democrats this month. It comes about two weeks after they joined with Republicans to finalize a separate, sweeping bill to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections, delivering long-sought infrastructure investments that Biden signed into law Monday.

But the more than $2 trillion proposal, the final component of Biden’s broader economic agenda, must survive an even tougher political slog in the days ahead. The House vote sends the tax-and-spending package to the Senate, where moderates including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) long have harbored skepticism about its price tag and policy scope — and could further seek to pare back its provisions.

Republicans, meanwhile, only hardened in their opposition to the bill. The vote was delayed because House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took to the chamber floor Thursday evening and spoke into Friday morning, blasting the $2 trillion package in comments that at times misrepresented its contents.

The speech essentially served as a filibuster, allowing McCarthy for more than eight hours to air a slew of unrelated grievances aimed at his political foes. But Democrats nonetheless prevailed in passing the legislation, leaving the eruption to illustrate the widening gulf between the two parties.

The House-passed bill would pave the way for the greatest expansion of federal child-care assistance in history, funding free, universal prekindergarten for all American children ages 3 and 4. Targeting health care, the measure would offer new Medicare benefits covering hearing services and empower the government for the first time to negotiate some prescription-drug prices, aiming to lower what seniors pay for lifesaving medicines such as insulin.

The bill would also set aside more than $550 billion to combat climate change, promote greener energy and provide new perks for Americans who buy electric vehicles. And it would approve additional funding to rethink the immigration system, provide hungry Americans with access to food and promote affordable new housing nationwide.

Democrats directed a further slate of fresh aid toward families, dramatically growing the “safety net” that helps those in greatest need. The legislation would extend new, expanded child tax credits for another year, for example, allowing Americans to continue receiving monthly payments as they have since Congress adopted the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. And Democrats coupled new child-care assistance with the first program that would provide paid family and medical leave to millions of Americans who do not have it through their jobs.

To pay for the package, which would parcel out its aid over 10 years, Democrats relied on a mix of measures that largely target wealthy Americans and profitable corporations. The bill would impose a new surtax on millionaires, for example, along with new minimums on companies that under current law pay nothing in income tax to the government — even in years when those firms profit handsomely. Federal estimates show that these and other financing measures would cover the costs of the spending bill in full.

“Members of Congress have stood exactly where we stand to pass legislation of extraordinary consequence in our nation’s history and for our nation’s future,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a speech shortly before the vote. “With the passage of the Build Back Better Act, we, this Democratic Congress, are taking our place in the long and honorable heritage of our democracy with legislation that will be the pillar of health and financial security in America.”

But the roughly $2 trillion bill still stops short of the fuller array of federal programs that some Democrats, including Biden, initially sought. Some of its aid initiatives would be temporary; others wouldn’t take effect for several years. The cuts and omissions reflect the tense, tenuous process by which Democrats forged the package and overcame their internal divides over the future of federal spending.

In the end, though, Democrats muscled through their myriad disagreements to adopt a package that they have repeatedly likened to the transformational endeavors of generations past, including the New Deal and Great Society programs implemented in the penumbra of the Great Depression. Only one Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), ultimately joined Republicans in opposing it.

“For the second time in just two weeks, the House of Representatives has moved on critical and consequential pieces of my legislative agenda,” Biden said in a statement. “Now, the Build Back Better Act goes to the United States Senate, where I look forward to it passing as soon as possible so I can sign it into law.”

A jubilant Pelosi announced the final result from the dais, as Democrats — for the second time this month — gathered on the floor to applaud and celebrate their work to advance the president’s policy agenda.

The long and winding path to passage began in the spring, after Biden put forward two outlines for economic packages totaling more than $4 trillion. Many Democrats saw the plans — one targeting infrastructure, the other more “social” spending — as inseparable and complementary.

Republicans proved willing to lend their votes toward advancing the public-works package, as they shared a desire to fix the country’s aging inner workings. But they vehemently opposed the rest of the president’s agenda, which many GOP lawmakers likened to socialism and claimed would add to the deficit and worsen the threat of inflation at a time when prices already were on the rise.

“If you’re worried about rising prices shrinking your paychecks more and more each month, these trillions in new government spending will only make it worse,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), the top Republican on the tax-focused House Ways and Means Committee.

Democrats ultimately forged a package over the course of a tumultuous, roughly seven-month marathon that at times tested the political cohesion of a party with widening ideological divides. Liberals have scrambled to secure a slew of new spending measures now that Democrats have narrow but potent majorities in the House and Senate, at times worrying moderates, who repeatedly have urged greater fiscal restraint.

In the House, where Pelosi possesses only a three-vote advantage, the tensions sometimes proved incapacitating, forcing Democrats to stomach considerable delays and repeatedly canceled votes on their signature spending plan. It even drew in Biden personally, prompting the president to reengage his roots as a legislator and embark on a flurry of calls, meetings and visits to the Capitol in the final hours of the fight to keep Democrats united.

At first, Democrats on Capitol Hill had grand ambitions to spend as much as $3.5 trillion. By summer, they had adopted a budget blueprint assembled chiefly by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), setting in motion a painstaking process to craft a bill up to that amount. House lawmakers assembled roughly 2,000 pages of legislative text that seemingly left no portion of the U.S. economy untouched.

But their aspirations soon collided with the nature of their narrow majority, particularly in the Senate, where the party must use a tactic known as reconciliation to advance the measure. The move allows Democrats to bypass GOP opposition, but only if they remain united — a delicate balance that opened the door for two moderates in the chamber to seek significant changes to the spending package.

One of the holdouts, Manchin, sought to scale back Democrats’ spending plans by more than half. He repeatedly opposed the party’s attempts to create new social spending programs, fretting over the solvency of the federal government and the potential for new spending to cause inflation. At one point during the summer, he called on Democrats to hit “pause” on the entire policymaking process, thrusting Biden’s economic agenda into political disarray.

The other recalcitrant member, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), had her own spending concerns. But she objected primarily to Democrats’ initial attempts to fund the package by raising tax rates on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations — a move that would have unwound the tax cuts imposed four years ago under President Donald Trump.

The two centrists’ demands ultimately forced a difficult, politically painful few months of haggling across the Capitol as Democrats looked to scale back their bill without jeopardizing promises they had made during the 2020 election campaign. Fearing that the package could falter in full, left-leaning lawmakers in the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus for months played political hardball: Until earlier this month, they held up the infrastructure bill as leverage in their talks with Sinema and Manchin.

Biden ultimately helped break the logjam in October, unveiling a blueprint for a scaled-back $1.75 trillion measure that he pitched personally in a private meeting with House Democrats. Party lawmakers expanded it in a final bill that some estimates now peg as high as $2.4 trillion. But the additions only fueled long-simmering concerns among moderates, who in recent days said they could not supply their must-have votes until they first could see a financial analysis of the legislation.

That data arrived late Thursday: A series of reports from the Congressional Budget Office found that it would add more than $367 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. But Biden administration officials argued — and Democrats agreed — that the analysis did not include billions in additional savings that are expected to come from their plan to empower the U.S. government to pursue tax cheats. The White House has estimated that this IRS enforcement provision alone could capture roughly $400 billion in additional revenue, even though the CBO predicted a more modest $207 billion. By its own metrics, the Treasury Department stressed that the measure is financed in full.

Reflecting its earlier cuts, the bill lacks the fuller expansion of Medicare sought by lawmakers including Sanders, who had hoped it would also cover dental and vision benefits. Its proposals to lower prescription-drug prices are far less aggressive than Democrats previously pitched, reflecting the onslaught of lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry, which blanketed the airwaves with negative ads and canvassed the Capitol in opposition.

“What’s in the bill is a compromise,” Pelosi acknowledged this month as the House took the initial step to bring the fuller $2 trillion bill to the chamber floor.

 

Democratic lawmakers also had to jettison other long-sought programs — from free community college to additional efforts to promote clean energy — chiefly to respond to Manchin’s concerns about vast categories of spending. And they could not ultimately raise tax rates on corporations and individuals, unwinding the Trump tax cuts, settling instead on a pastiche of other revenue-raising programs to satisfy Sinema.

A slew of additional changes could still come as the bill heads to the Senate, where Manchin remains opposed to some of its components, including its plan to provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave. Even though House Democrats reeled in their original vision of providing 12 weeks of benefits, Manchin has maintained steadfast opposition to the idea out of concerns about its fiscal solvency.

Other provisions of the bill, including those targeting immigration, must also survive stiff scrutiny in the Senate. The chamber has strict rules around adopting tax-and-spending measures under the reconciliation process, leaving Democrats fearful that their attempts to help foreigners seeking residency could be jettisoned from the package. The process to work through those potential parliamentary concerns began even before the House voted, leading Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) bullish this week that the chamber could adopt its version of the bill before Christmas.