White House ‘confident’ Congress will pass Build Back Better bill

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bipartisan infrastructure deal into law, securing a major legislative victory. But his larger economic and social spending package still remains a subject of concern as members of Congress mull its provisions. Yamiche Alcindor talks to Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council for the Biden administration, about those negotiations.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden will soon sign into law one major piece of his agenda, the bipartisan infrastructure deal, securing a major legislative victory.

    But there is still work to be done to get his larger economic and social spending package over the finish line.

    Yamiche Alcindor talks to one of the White House's key negotiators on where it all stands.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Since the infrastructure vote on Friday night, the Biden administration has directed its focus to the Build Back Better package. That's the $1.75 trillion bill with money for child care, health care, and climate change.

    It needs nearly every House Democrat and all 50 Senate Democrats on board to pass.

    Brian Deese is the director of the National Economic Council for the Biden administration. He's been a central figure in these negotiations. And he joins me now from the White House.

    Brian, thank you so much for being here.

    President Biden will soon pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan, but there were many lawmakers who wanted it tied to the Build Back Better act. What assurances can you give Americans that that Build Back Better act is going to become law? And how soon do you expect that to happen?

  • Brian Deese, Director, National Economic Council:

    Well, for starters, what I can assure folks is that signing this historic infrastructure bill is going to do a lot of good for the country.

    We have waited decades to actually do something about infrastructure. And, in that period, the United States has fallen behind. We're 13th in the world in infrastructure.

    And with this piece of legislation that the president will sign soon, we're going to make historic investments in rebuilding both our physical infrastructure ports, and airports, roads, and bridges, transit, but also provide high-speed Internet to all Americans, clean water by replacing lead service lines across the country. So this is a big set of investments, a capital investment in America that we have waited way too long to do, and we're now finally going to make happen.

    And I think that's going to build real momentum for getting the second half of the president's economic agenda, the Build Back Better plan, into law. That will start next week, where we anticipate a vote in the House, and then onto the Senate as well.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, the Congressional Budget Office said today that it's releasing estimates for individual titles on this bill, but that it's not clear when it will have a final cost for the final bill.

    There are some moderates who say they want to see a CBO score before they vote for this. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants to vote on this Build Back Better Act on the week, next week, the week of November 15.

    How sure are you — how sure are you that this CBO score will be available by then? But also how worried is the president and yourself that there won't be the score needed to pass this bill in the House?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, we're very confident that this bill is fiscally responsible and fully paid for.

    We saw last week the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is the gold standard for the revenue provisions in this bill, reinforce that there is more than enough revenue, more than enough offsets to offset all of the new investment in this package.

    And this is the typical process. Both chambers of Congress typically vote on bills when they have enough information. So, we anticipate that there will be more information provided to lawmakers this week, and, consistent with the commitments that lawmakers and leadership made, that there will be a vote next week, based on that additional information, in the House.

    This is a process. The bill will pass the House and then will go to the Senate. But, at the end of the day, the most important bottom line is, these are high-value, targeted investments in the American people and the American economy that are fully paid for.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    How confident are you that you have the votes to get this Build Back Better Act passed?

    And I also wonder what — you're in the room. What are you telling lawmakers as you try to close this deal?

  • Brian Deese:

    We are confident that this framework will pass the House and will pass the Senate. And what we're telling lawmakers is, this is an easy vote.

    The American people are looking to lower the cost of prescription drugs. They're looking to lower the cost of child care and to provide a tax cut to middle-class families, so they finally can have some breathing room. People who are anxious about their economic circumstance, are seeing higher prices, what we — this bill will do is actually lower prices, lower inflationary pressure by getting more people to work.

    And it is fully paid for, and paid for in a responsible way, by asking the largest companies to pay a bit more, as well as the wealthiest Americans. So this is a straightforward plan to deliver where the American people need it most. We're making that case. And we're confident that we can get it through both houses of Congress.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    I want to also ask you about paid family leave. It was added back into the Build Back Better Act.

    But senators, including Senator Manchin, they have been opposed to this. I wonder, do you expect paid family leave to be in the final bill?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, we're going to work on this issue, and we will see. There's some twists and turns ahead.

    Paid family leave is certainly something that the president has always and consistently been supportive of. There's been concerns raised by members of Congress. So we're going to work that through.

    But I think, at the core, the question is not what is not going to be in this package, but what this package will actually deliver for the American people. We have been talking about something like universal preschool for years and decades. Again, economists of all stripes have identified that as the one of the highest investments we could make in terms of value for the American economy, getting all our 3- and 4-year-olds educated at an early age.

    We have the potential to get that done and, again, get it done in a way that is fiscally responsible, fully paid for, doesn't raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year. That's the plan.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, Brian, in the last administration that you worked for — that would be former President Obama — you were also a key expert on climate change.

    I want to ask you about climate change in this bill. Are you worried that there are critics who think that you gave up too much on climate and that this bill is too watered down as it relates to those issues?

  • Brian Deese:

    This bill, as it's structured, would be the largest and most significant investment in climate change in our nation's history by a significant factor.

    It would, if enacted, reduce one gigaton of emissions from our economy. And, most importantly, it would spark new economic engines in our economy, from the electric vehicle industry, to the clean power industry, not only putting people to work in good-paying jobs around the country, but creating new export opportunities, so that the United States is actually exporting the next generation of, for example, American-made vehicles, electric clean vehicles all around the world.

    It's an enormous economic opportunity and a very significant investment. We feel good about what we can get done on climate change, in the same way that we feel good about what we can do to get more people to work by providing child care and eldercare and preschool.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, right now, Americans are facing some real economic struggles. Gas prices are at a record high, the highest, some experts say, that they have been in seven years. There are people that are paying more for the meat that they want to put on the Thanksgiving table.

    What do you say that to some critics who think that the White House is too focused on long-term investments and are not focused enough on sort of short-term right now relief for Americans?

  • Brian Deese:

    Look, President Biden understands deeply the impact that higher prices can have on a typical family, whether that's the price at the pump or the price at the grocery store.

    And he is focused like a laser on those issues. In fact, just today, he was making calls to CEOs of some of the biggest companies, our biggest retailers, as well as freight movers, like FedEx and UPS, to talk about how we can unstick the bottlenecks, some of these bottlenecks that are keeping goods from moving as quickly as they can throughout the economy.

    So he is on this case. But I would also underscore the economic momentum and progress that we are making is real. We have seen 5.6 million jobs created. The unemployment rate is down to 5.6 — to 4.6. That's two years faster than most experts created.

    And a lot of these supply chain challenges are actually a reflection of the fact that we are moving more goods, more products through the American economy now than at any time in history, significantly higher than before the pandemic. That's a good thing. It reflects the fact that Americans are out there unable to buy goods again.

    We're going to work through those challenges. And we are on that every day in the short term. But we think we can focus on both the short term and the medium and longer-term challenges. Part of why we're in this problem is, we haven't invested in building our infrastructure, so that we have more resilient ports, more resilient roads and bridges around America.

    We can do both of these things. That certainly is what we're focused on.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much for joining us, Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council.

  • Brian Deese:

    Thank you.

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