Nov 1, 2021

Biden's new Build Back Better framework.

Biden's new Build Back Better framework.

The president released his Build Back Better framework on Thursday.

Today's read: 10 minutes.

Today, we're covering Biden's Build Back Better framework and the reactions to his latest plan. We're skipping our reader question to give this story some extra space, but we have an important "Story that matters" plus some quick hits from the weekend.

President Joe Biden speaking in 2019. Photo: Gage Skidmore
Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America

Quick hits.

  1. President Biden is in Glasgow, Scotland for a United Nations conference on climate change. (The meeting)
  2. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, tested positive for Covid-19. (The story)
  3. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in two cases over Texas's new abortion law. (The arguments)
  4. The FDA told Moderna that it needs additional time to examine the use of its vaccine in children aged 12-17 to evaluate the risk of myocarditis (a rare heart inflammation condition). (The delay)
  5. A Guantanamo Bay prisoner described the U.S. interrogation program for the first time publicly last week, and a military panel has called his treatment "an affront to American values" and requested clemency on his behalf. (The testimony)

Today's topic.

President Biden's Build Back Better plan. On Thursday, the president announced a new framework for Democrats' reconciliation bill, also known as his Build Back Better plan, that he said would garner the support of moderates in the Senate and progressives in the House. The legislative text is still being negotiated, but the framework wasn't rejected out of hand by any members of the Democratic party — which is a sign of progress after many months of negotiations. Democrats need every member of their party to support the bill in the Senate, and can only lose three votes in the House. They are attempting to pass the bill in tandem with a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that has already been passed in the Senate but still needs to pass the House of Representatives.

The plan's top line number is $1.75 trillion, down from the $3.5 trillion initially proposed by the Biden administration. According to Reuters, the framework includes:

  • $555 billion in clean energy tax credits, climate resilience infrastructure and renewable energy development
  • Free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds for six years
  • Expanded home care for the elderly and disabled
  • Limiting child care costs for families to no more than 7% of income for families earning up to 250% of their state's median income
  • Extending the child tax credit for one year
  • Extending Affordable Care Act premium tax credits through 2025, potentially lowering the cost of health care premiums for ~9 million Americans
  • $150 billion for affordable housing
  • $100 billion to reduce immigration backlogs

The framework does NOT include:

  • Paid family leave proposals
  • A proposal allowing the U.S. government to negotiate prescription drug prices
  • The "billionaire tax" proposed just last week
  • Changes to the state and local tax deduction (SALT) that Republicans limited in 2017 as part of their new tax bill
  • Free community college
  • The Clean Electricity Performance Program

Biden's proposal to pay for the plan includes:

  • Instituting a new 15% corporate minimum tax
  • 5% surtax on income over $10 million a year
  • 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks
  • Rolling back some of Trump's 2017 tax cuts
  • Increased funding for IRS enforcement

On Sunday, Democrats said they were still discussing a way to include prescription drug price negotiations in the bill, and had made some progress. Votes on the Build Back Better program and the infrastructure bill could happen as early as this week, but it could take many more weeks before legislative text is finalized and these bills become law.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to what's in, what's out, and where things go from here.

What the right is saying.

The right says the framework’s true cost is much higher and Democrats failed to accomplish much of what they set out to do.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board called it a "jerry-rigged plan" with "quarter-baked entitlement programs that will retard work and $1.85 trillion in tax increases that will distort and limit investment."

“They use phony accounting to finance a few years of new spending with 10 years of tax increases,” the board wrote. “For example, the plan extends the $3,600 child tax credit for one year at a cost of $110 billion. But Democrats will inevitably extend the credit next year. If Republicans oppose this or try to scale the credit back, they will be attacked for raising taxes on middle-class families. The true 10-year cost is about $1.1 trillion. The agreement drops the House’s proposed Medicare vision and dental expansion. But it preserves a new hearing benefit, which the White House claims will cost a mere $34 billion and start in 2024. The annual cost of the hearing benefit once fully phased-in is some $16 billion. Congress will invariably make it permanent. True cost: $160 billion.

“Democrats also plan to extend ObamaCare subsidies through 2025 for higher earners and broaden them to low-income folks in states that rejected the Medicaid expansion,” the board added. “The White House says this will cost $130 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that providing coverage to these folks would cost north of $500 billion over a decade. These programs are merely illustrative of how Democrats are desperately trying to squeeze a menagerie of spending into their negotiated $1.75 trillion top-line cost, with the real cost likely to be closer to $4 trillion.”

In The National Review, Philip Klein said Biden's social spending could be less resilient than Obamacare.

"To pare down the cost of President Biden’s social spending bill, Democrats were forced to make a number of their new programs temporary. Their hope — and conservatives’ fear — is that once the programs are put in place and develop dependents, that even a future Republican Congress would feel compelled to extend them," he wrote. "The reason why Obamacare was different was that it was a permanent piece of legislation. This meant that when Republicans got in control, they had to actively pass a bill to repeal it, which also put pressure on them to come up with some sort of replacement.

"Imagine, however, an alternate reality in which Obamacare would have expired at the end of 2017 had Republicans not passed legislation to extend or replace it. Suddenly, Republican disagreement and dysfunction would have worked in favor of conservatives, because if nothing passed, it would have effectively repealed the law," Klein wrote. "If Republicans are in control in the future, it won’t ultimately matter whether some Republicans, or even leadership, believes it would be better politics to extend childcare and universal pre-K subsidies. As long as a critical mass of Republicans won’t vote for such extensions, they won’t happen."

Kimberley Strassel said the bill is the latest "climate humiliation" for the left.

"President Biden promised progressives that his budget bill would finally deliver them their long-sought climate stick. What they’re getting instead is the same old carrot: corporate welfare," Strassel said. "Climate warriors have insisted for decades that the subsidies the U.S. uses to coax companies toward green energy, and consumers toward energy-efficient products, aren’t enough. The only way to reduce U.S. carbon emissions sufficiently, they say, is via a federal enforcement mechanism—a program that imposes mandates or pricing policies that require carbon cuts.

"The original climate portion of the reconciliation package was built around the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which would require utilities to buy or generate a certain additional amount of renewable energy every year. Companies would get federal payments if they hit the mark and face steep fines if they didn’t," Strassel said. "Some Democrats—including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and several Texas representatives—said no to CEPP, and they meant it... The White House claims that its souped-up subsidies will largely make up for the loss of enforcement mechanisms. They won’t, though they stand to do real damage to energy reliability and the economy."

What the left is saying.

The left is mixed on the framework, with some arguing its most crucial provisions were removed and others saying it should be celebrated.

The Washington Post editorial board said the bill is getting "worse and worse."

"Democrats might expand the child tax credit for perhaps only a single year. The expanded credit could halve child poverty,” the board wrote. “A long-term expansion should take precedence over a federal pre-kindergarten program or expanded housing aid. If temporary benefits expire as written, the nation will derive little long-term good for its money. Democrats might bet that future Congresses — even those run by Republicans — would not want to revoke popular benefits. If that is so, the Democrats’ bill would effectively write a suite of expensive new programs into the law without long-term revenue streams to back them. Ms. Sinema compounded the funding problems by derailing Democrats’ plan to roll back President Donald Trump’s ruinous tax cuts, which were massive giveaways to the rich at a time of high wealth inequality and big budget deficits.

“Meanwhile, Mr. Manchin appears to have forced the Democrats to drop their central climate change policy, a standard that would have pushed utilities to steadily adopt clean energy, leaving only a laundry list of expensive green subsidies in the bill,” the board said. “This would not and should not impress other nations that have adopted real carbon caps to guide their economies.”

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said it was "shameful" that Democrats abandoned paid family leave.

"We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic, in a jobs and care crisis, as the only industrialized nation in the world without some form of national paid family/medical leave. We need it badly," she wrote. "This life-saving and economy-boosting policy should not be delayed. Paid family/medical leave is a policy that makes it possible for people to recover from childbirth to bond with a new child, or to take care of themselves or a close loved one if a serious health crisis strikes... The situation is critical. Going into the pandemic, while a small percentage of people had this policy through their work or due to state law, our nation guaranteed zero weeks of paid family/medical leave, while all other countries on average have 26 weeks of paid leave.

"What does the devastation look like? Millions of moms and caregivers have been disproportionately pushed out of the labor force, with Black, brown and Indigenous moms experiencing compounded health and economic harms. And lives that could have been saved are being lost, in part due to our failure to guarantee paid family/medical leave," Rowe-Finkbeiner said. "That's not all. The cost of child care is now higher than public college, even as most care workers are paid sub-living wages -- and these child care costs are particularly hard to meet without paid leave as a bridge to going back to work after a new baby arrives. Businesses are faltering because our care infrastructure is nearly non-existent, pushing the employees they need to keep their doors open out of the labor force."

E.J. Dionne Jr. said Democrats should "celebrate victory," explain what they've achieved and "build on success to make more progress."

"Begin with the basics: Trump spent four years promising investments in the nation’s physical infrastructure. Biden got it done with bipartisan support. The bill’s provisions to close the broadband gap will be especially helpful to the parts of the country that have seen little in return for their support for Trumpism. The Build Back Better bill includes a record investment to fight climate change, new programs for affordable housing and increased assistance to make postsecondary education more affordable," Dionne Jr. wrote.

"For families earning up to $150,000 annually, it extends the child tax credit of $300 a month for each child for parents of kids under 6, and $250 a month for each child aged 6 to 17," he added. "It’s a policy many conservatives have endorsed. The bill caps child-care spending for most families at 7 percent of their income, and in what is a really big deal, it creates a universal pre-K program for all 3- and 4-year-olds. At the other end of life, the bill expands home care services for the elderly and provides for a new hearing benefit under Medicare. It also brings health coverage to up to 4 million Americans, many of them locked out of the benefits of Obamacare in Republican states."

My take.

Of all the things that had been floated to be included in Biden's Build Back Better plan, if I could have picked three to make it into the final bill, I think they would have been: 1) A paid family leave policy, 2) New rules allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, 3) A climate change provision that was not simply more corporate welfare. The first two are not in the bill, and the third is TBD. So I'm not exactly thrilled about what’s come out of this.

The paid family leave policy is, in my opinion, a no-brainer. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner made the case very well above, as it's a simple fact that we are woefully inadequate at taking care of our newborns’ families, elderly parents, or sick employees, especially compared to other developed nations. The social and even economic upsides are tough to overstate, and I think it should have been the Democrats’ top priority (it may happen anyway, given that there is strong bipartisan support for reform, but this is a huge opportunity missed).

In my ideal world Americans would be a lot less medicated and a lot less reliant on prescription drugs to live healthy lives. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in, and instead we have people going bankrupt to pay for life-saving medicine. Whether capping the cost of prescription drugs would hurt the development of future medicines is a challenging question to answer, but this was probably the most popular proposal in the whole bill, and an issue every president in recent memory (including Trump) tried to tackle. Somehow (Big Pharma's billions in lobbying), Democrats appear to have let it slip through their fingers yet again.

I have written about the reality of climate change. I am hopeful something useful will emerge in the final legislative text of this bill. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is as compromised on this issue as any politician could be: His state gets 90% of its electricity from coal and he's received more money from the fossil fuel industry than any other sitting senator. His job is to serve his constituents and it's understandable why he'd reject legislation that forces a much more abrupt shift to clean energy, one that would certainly further disrupt West Virginia's economy. But it's also unacceptable for him not to lead on this issue, given the stakes of what we're facing. The jury is still out on where we land, though, and we'll see what ends up in the final bill.

My favorite part about the bill is the immigration overhaul, around $100 billion that includes funding to help U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services clear the backlog of migrants' paperwork and court cases, which is a solution I have been advocating for years. Clearing that backlog, adding judges on the southern border and processing these cases more efficiently would reduce the number of undocumented migrants released into the U.S. without having their asylum claims evaluated and their immigration status solidified. It would create a more humane and orderly system in a year where we had a record number of undocumented immigrants apprehended at the southern border. Unfortunately, it's still unclear if this funding will even be allowed in the bill (or what it would do, precisely) because of the Senate rules that dictate what can pass with the 50-vote reconciliation threshold.

I'm also interested in learning more about the 1% tax on corporate buybacks, which seems like a compelling way to make revenue from corporations who use their massive profit windfalls to simply inflate their own share prices. Kudos to progressives, also, who have pledged not to vote on any bill until there is legislative text, which is an obscenely low bar for legislators, yet is unmet with surprising regularity.

What happens now? We'll see. Biden is in Europe for the U.N. climate change summit and the haggling in D.C. is still underway. This bill isn't remotely close to what I'd hoped for, but the left's griping about its size seems silly to me. It's a historic piece of legislation that could remake several facets of American life and it could become law with just 50 votes. Now we just have to see if President Biden can unite all 50 Senate Democrats and Nancy Pelosi can keep everyone in the House on board.

Your questions, answered.

We're skipping today's reader question to keep our newsletter a reasonable length, but if you want to ask a question you can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

NBC News conducted a 21-page poll that gives us an extensive look at how Americans view the two major political parties today. According to the poll, when asked which party would do a better job on specific issues, Democrats fared best on climate change (+24), coronavirus (+12), education (+10) and abortion (+10). Meanwhile, Republicans did best on border security (+27), inflation (+24), crime (+22), national security (+21), and the economy (+18). You can see the poll results here.


  • 69%. The percentage of Americans who said they know just some or little to nothing about what is in Biden's Build Back Better and infrastructure plans.
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who said they know a great deal or a good amount about what is in Biden's Build Back Better and infrastructure plans.
  • 32%. The percentage of Americans who think the bills would hurt people like them if they became law.
  • 25%. The percentage of Americans who think the bills would help people like them if they became law.
  • 50%. The percentage drop in abortions in Texas in September 2021 compared to September 2020.
  • 84%. The percentage of people seeking abortions in Texas who were more than six weeks pregnant before the new law that bans most abortions after six weeks.

Have a nice day.

U.S. wildlife researchers were stunned to discover that two California condors, a critically endangered bird species, appear to be capable of virgin births. Two birds gave birth without any male genetic DNA, something that other bird species as well as some lizards, snakes, sharks and fish have been known to do. With only 500 California condors remaining in the southwest U.S. and Mexico, the births were a surprising piece of hope for a species thought to be on its way out. In the 1980s, fewer than two dozen of the birds remained. "What makes the case even more rare is that it is the first time that any bird species has had a virgin birth when males were present for breeding," according to the BBC.

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