After key election losses such as the Virginia governor’s race, House Democrats are seeking to move ahead on President Joe Biden’s domestic policies with an expected vote on the $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better Act.”
The newest version of the bill was sent to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday afternoon with the committee holding a marathon late-night hearing to detail rules for debate if the bill gets to a floor vote this week.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Biden said he understands people want to see Democrats “get things done.” The president said he’s pushing members of his party to give final passage to the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, as well as the mix of social programs and tax changes in the Build Back Better Act.
“People are upset and uncertain about a lot of things — from COVID, to school, to jobs, to a whole range of things, and the cost of a gallon of gasoline,” Biden said. “And so, if I’m able to pass — sign into law my Build Back Better initiative, I’m in a position where you’re going to see a lot of those things ameliorated quickly and swiftly. And so that has to be done.”
Still, Biden’s agenda remains caught between moderates and liberals in his own party, leaving open questions of whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can schedule a floor vote on the bill.
The House Agriculture Committee released details highlighting $87.4 billion in spending on agriculture, including $28 billion for conservation programs, $27 billion for forestry, $18 billion for rural development, $12 billion for farmer debt relief and $2 billion for agricultural research.
On taxes, the bill changes the current 21% rate and provides a tax cut to 18% for corporations with taxable income below $400,000. The tax is increased to 26.5% for corporations with incomes higher than $5 million. The bill also sets a minimum 15% corporate tax for companies that zero out their tax liability.
The bill also boosts the valuation benefit of Section 2032 A for farmland, raising the land value deduction from $750,000 to $11.7 million.
The bill also increases taxes on higher-income people and limits deductions of qualified business income (Section 199A) for married couples with more than $500,000 in taxable income on a joint return.
For families, the bill extends the $3,600 Child Tax Credit and expands the Earned Income Credit for low-wage workers without children.
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A provision drawing criticism is an agreement to expand the State and Local Taxes (SALT) deduction from $10,000 to $72,500. Republicans pointed out the provision largely helps wealthier people because most people now take advantage of the $24,000 standard deduction.
“The people left in the poor rural areas of my district are going to get left out,” said Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., pointing to the changes on SALT.
The bill also includes a provision allowing Health and Human Services officials to negotiate certain prescription drug prices for Medicare.
Despite earlier objections from the Senate parliamentarian, the House bill also includes immigration provisions, including granting permanent residency status for farmworkers and other undocumented immigrations who were considered essential workers early in the pandemic. The bill also includes legal immigration status for children who came into the U.S. with their parents, known as “Dreamers.” The White House stated the bill also will reform the immigration system to reduce the visa backlog.
The White House released a fact sheet on rural communities, championing the “landmark new program,” the Rural Partnership Program, which will provide $970 million for states and tribes to use for competitive rural economic grant programs.
Kelliann Blazek, special assistant to the president for agriculture and rural policy, highlighted the Rural Partnership Program in an interview with DTN. Blazek noted that eight out of 10 counties with high levels of poverty are in rural areas of the country and have fewer resources for local development.
“So, we’re taking a bottom-up approach and putting rural communities in the driver’s seat so they have the tools and resources to evaluate their goals and then we’ll help them get there,” Blazek said.
The White House also spotlighted $9.7 billion in loans for rural electric providers and a separate $2.88 billion for electric loans to boost renewable energy. The investment is the largest since the Rural Electrification Act for providing energy to rural America, the White House stated.
On the $28 billion in conservation spending, the bill increases funds for USDA’s major conservation programs to focus on climate-smart agricultural practices. That includes $9 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), $7.45 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), $4.1 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and $1.7 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The White House stated that “at its peak,” the climate-smart programs could reach as many as 130 million crop acres.
“The president believes farmers and ranchers are part of the solution when it comes to climate change, and from the very start of this administration, we’ve been seeking input from and listening to farmers and ranchers and rural communities to inform our climate agenda,” Blazek said.
Republicans testifying before the Rules Committee challenged the $1.75 trillion costs of the bill, arguing the actual costs were higher. They added that the costs of the bill would add “further fuel for the fire” on inflation. Pointing to the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps that would operate out of USDA, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said the recreation of a 1930s New Deal program would compete for workers.
“Why create a government jobs program when every employer I run across tells me they can’t find people to work,” Westerman said.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee, pointed to the benefit of the reconciliation package and the $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill, which is tied up because House Democrats will not pass it until they vote on the Build Back Better Act. McGovern noted Republicans could not get an infrastructure bill passed when President Donald Trump was in charge and Republicans controlled Congress.
“Every week was infrastructure week,” McGovern said. He added, “The reason I am anxious to get both of these bills done is people want us to deliver. They are tired of talk and no action. And, you know, they are tired of the polarization. And so, you know, people are talking about these bills as a political calculation, but at the end of the day, you know, if we can get this done, it’s going to be meaningful in people’s lives,” McGovern said.
Speaking to the Rules Committee, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., highlighted the climate benefits using the conservation programs. “All of farm bill conservation programs are overprescribed and have backlogs,” Scott said. “Producers who want to help sequester or reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will be able to carry out these practices with funds in this bill.”
Republicans repeatedly reminded Democrats on the House Rules Committee about Tuesday’s election results with a Republican winning the Virginia gubernatorial race, as well as the Virginia House with Republicans winning in key suburbs. New Jersey’s Democratic governor won reelection, but the race was closer than expected as well.
“I hope my colleagues reflect on last night’s election outcomes across the country and recognize Americans are not satisfied with the direction our country is headed in,” said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., ranking member of the House Ag Committee.
Scott and Thompson disagreed over whether the agricultural provisions would help or hurt farmers. Thompson said provisions in the bill, especially those tied to energy such as methane and natural gas, would drive up prices for inputs such as fertilizer. Scott said he’s worked in a bipartisan fashion and noted he wrote President Joe Biden to protect farmers from a tax change on stepped-up basis, which is not in the bill.
The bill also includes $960 billion in biofuel grants, as well as funding for sustainable fuels and a new tax credit for those programs.
DTN highlighted the conservation and biofuel aspects of bill with “Ag Funding in President Biden’s Agenda:” here.
Bill language for HR 5376, the Build Back Better Act: here.
House Agriculture Committee details on provisions in the bill: here.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN