Next steps to pass Build Back Better

By Leah Greenberg, Indivisible co-founder

On Friday, the House passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) and took a step towards passage of the Build Back Better Act (BBB).

These two bills together make up the Biden economic agenda. At Indivisible, we’ve been focused on the passage of Build Back Better, because it includes our key priorities — from climate investments to child care and paid leave to prescription drug reform.

Until now, these two bills have been linked, for a simple reason: progressives care more about Build Back Better, and conservatives care more about the BIF. For the last two months, progressives have acted as a bloc to withhold their votes from the infrastructure package in order to protect against the danger that conservatives simply walk away from Build Back Better.

This standoff has succeeded in bringing conservative democrats to the table to hammer out the framework and details of a Build Back Better package. This in itself was a victory; earlier in the fall, Senator Manchin was openly calling for a “strategic pause” until next year on Build Back Better. The organizing of the progressive caucus prevented that from happening, and forced conservatives to actually negotiate. We’ve made a ton of progress in the last two months — enough to get to a House bill with legislative text this week.

On Friday, we hoped to pass both the BIF and BBB together out of the House. But a last-minute revolt by a small group of conservative holdouts — Reps. Ed Case (HI-01), Jared Golden (ME-02), Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) — derailed that plan. Despite having scores from the Joint Tax Committee and the White House, the conservatives refused to vote on the bill without first receiving a formal score (ie, estimate of its impact on the federal budget) from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — a score that wouldn’t be ready until next week.

After a day of fraught, intense negotiations, progressives led by Rep. Jayapal made the decision to accept a commitment from these conservative holdout Democrats that they’d vote for Build Back Better once the CBO score was received, and move forward with passing the BIF in the meantime. This deal gave President Biden a win while securing the public commitments of the holdouts on the current version.

Now let’s be real: commitments on paper, or at a press conference, are better than no commitments at all. But they’re not nearly as ironclad a guarantee as a vote. The progressives who took this deal are recognizing the urgent need to give President Biden a win and taking a leap of faith. It’s now up to the conservative democrats, Democratic leadership, and President Biden to deliver. And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they uphold their end of the bargain.

It’s also important to note that other progressives, including fellow champions and friends of ours, held to their original strategy and voted no on the BIF. This was a courageous stance, and one that we honor and support. Because let’s be clear: it’s absolutely outrageous that corporate conservative Democrats were once again allowed to delay Build Back Better. It’s outrageous that once again progressives were the ones asked to take the leap of faith, instead.

Let’s also be clear about one more thing: the only reason we’re in this position at all is because literally zero members of the Republican party are willing to vote for climate action, healthcare, childcare, paid leave, affordable housing, or prescription drug reform. These are wildly popular policies, things their own voters also want — and they’re trying to kill it all.

So here’s the short version of what’s happened: at this point, all but one member of the House (Rep. Golden) has committed to vote for Build Back Better — that’s enough votes for passage. President Biden has repeatedly committed that he’ll get it across the finish line. Here at Indivisible, we ultimately care about what people do, not what they say. So we’re going to be throwing everything we’ve got at making sure they uphold their word and pass this bill into law. Our families, our communities, and our planet depend on it.

So, this is what we need you to do right now (you can connect to your representatives via the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224–3121):

  1. If your representative is one of the conservative Democrats, hold them to their word and demand that they vote yes on the Build Back Better Act when it comes to the floor.
  2. If your representative is one of the Democrats working hard to get Build Back Better over the finish line, thank them and tell them to keep it up.
  3. If your representative is a Republican, remind them that the provisions in the Build Back Better Act are wildly popular across bipartisan lines — and that as a constituent, you demand that they vote yes.

We know this has been a long fight, and it’s felt like just one of many long fights over a long year. We know how ready you are for a victory (us too). Thank you for staying with us, and pushing on against every obstacle we’ve faced so far. What we can accomplish together in the coming days will help get us one step closer to the finish line.

P.S. I know we’re going to get a bunch of questions. But there’s one that I want to address directly: why aren’t you talking about how great the infrastructure bill is?

Quite honestly, our opinion on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill depends a lot on what happens next! The BIF’s got some very good stuff in it — funding for public transit and passenger rail, lead removal, green energy, and more. It’s also got some stuff we don’t love. Our concern with the BIF has never been about the BIF; it’s been that conservative democrats might declare themselves done with legislating once it’s passed. If BIF is accompanied by the game-changing policies in Build Back Better, then we’ve got a historic Biden legislative agenda. That’s the ‘if’ we’ve got to fight for right now.