Pelosi says Build Back Better bill ‘solidly paid for,’ but Senate passage still uncertain

With narrow margins in Congress, Democratic leaders continue their struggle to build a coalition to pass President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports, with new details about how it will be paid for and the specifics Democrats are working on to push it over the finish line.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With narrow margins in Congress, Democratic leadership continues its struggle to build a coalition to pass President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

    As Lisa Desjardins reports, with new details about how it will be paid for, Democrats are working to push it over the finish line.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

    Good morning. Thank you for your patience.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Squarely on the shoulders of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today, the pressure to pass the Biden agenda.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    This is the greatest, monumental, historic piece of legislation that any of us will ever be a part of it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She means the Build Back Better Act, the sweeping legislation that expands child care funding and would launch universal free pre-K. It also would invest billions in climate change initiatives and expand health care access, including by lowering some drug prices.

    But the bill again hit speed bumps with questions around its cost. Some answers and pages of hard numbers came today from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimated that the bill raises at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Democrats said hundreds of billions more are in sections the committee did not score, meaning it would cover the bill's cost.

    Pelosi highlighted the finding within minutes.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    That's not Democratic. It's not Republican. It's an objective view that it is solidly paid for.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All this as House Democrats work overtime.

  • Man:

    We are talking about a multitrillion-dollar bill with over 2,000 pages.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Holding an eight-hour Rules Committee meeting last night to move the current version to the House floor, even as Republicans express opposition.

  • Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX):

    It is frustrating to be dealing with something that is so large, the biggest bill that's ever passed. Really, do we understand exactly how this is all going to work? Because the language is a little confusing, and there's a lot of it. And it's detailed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Democrats have also made key revisions in their bill, adding work permits and a legal status for many undocumented immigrants, as well as a paid leave compromise to give four weeks of time to care for family.

    Still unclear is whether a key moderate, Democrat Joe Manchin, will accept the changes when the bill reaches the 50-50 Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on the state of play on Capitol Hill, Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, our viewers may feel they have seen this movie before.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Neither bill so far having a vote on the floor. Where do we stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As of this hour, we do not know what the rest of tonight will look like. It is possible that the House could still vote on the Build Back Better bill tonight.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pressure those moderates who are now the ones holding out to get them on board, but, as of this moment, they don't have the votes tonight. They may have to wait until tomorrow. Those moderates are saying they want to see the full bill. They're skeptical about some items. There are still some items being negotiated.

    I can run through them, that state and local tax provision, immigration, prescription drugs, methane. All of those have small snags. We can get into that.

    But, Judy, what's really going on here is a problem of trust. And it — think of it sort of like a wedding, two people getting married. One of them has cold feet when the other is ready. That was progressives. Then progressive said, OK, we're ready to get on board. Now the moderates have cold feet.

    Literally, at this moment, we are waiting to see if both sides in the House Democratic Caucus will say I do to what is a massive and the most important vote potentially of many of these Democrats' career.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question.

    So, Lisa, when you mentioned still concerns over the cost, what specifically are the concerns?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know I like talking numbers.

    So, I think, in the days ahead, we will delve more into the numbers as we see the exact bill that gets passed. But when you look at this bill and what we have learned today from the Joint Committee on Taxation, $1.75 trillion, the important message here is that they believe that Democrats do pay for that.

    The two biggest parts of those pay-fors are the taxes on the wealthy, and then also the corporate tax. Now, those are still items that could have problems in the Senate, potentially. It seems like everyone's on board.

    But one of the important points about — that I want to make about this, however, is that it's paid for in part because some of these programs don't last for 10 years. Some of the most popular programs, including the child care tax — the child care tax credit, as well as that universal pre-K, those ends in three to six years.

    So, some of this — it is paid for. But when you look on deeper inspection, it's assuming that those programs won't last, when, in fact, Democrats want them to be permanent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Phasing — they agreed — because they agreed to phase some things out that had been 10 years.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, immigration.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned that as one of the things still being debated.

    Where does that specifically stand right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, so let's talk about the proposals on the table for House Democrats.

    This is an issue that many Democrats are wrestling with right now and to deem if they want to get on this bill or not. Here's where we stand. There is option one. This is an option having to do with the registry of immigrants in this country, and it would allow, essentially, for green cards and a path to citizenship for those who arrived in this country after 2010 or — that — who have been here — I'm sorry — who arrived before 2010.

    Let me make sure I get this straight. It's confusing. Moderates, however, are concerned, because that's a large population. That would be millions of undocumented people in this country now, anyone who got here before 2010, essentially.

    The option two, though, that moderates like better is a status, not a green card, not path to citizenship. That's something that's called parole. It'd be five to 10 years of technical immigration parole. It would be extended to five years if people abide by the conditions.

    But progressives, of course, don't like that. So how do you square that circle? Those are the two issues, the two ideas on the table now. Progressives say something is better than nothing. All of them concerned, Judy, because it's not clear either of these ideas can pass Senate muster, where the Senate parliamentarian, as our viewers know, has to say that anything in this bill is budgetary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is budgetary.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And there's nervousness across the House Democratic Caucus if any immigration can pass. And do they vote for this without knowing or not?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you were reporting yesterday this could take weeks, even after the House passes it. So there's some cushion in expectation, but the House vote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a big moment.

    If the House does not get this done this week, they have a very serious problem with scheduling and the Senate. Pelosi knows that. So the next two days are critical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, once again on top of it all, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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