House Democrats Get Build Back Better Act Ready for a Vote, American Opportunity Tax Credit Changes Included in Reconciliation
By Jason Pye - Director, Rule of Law Initiatives
Point of Order is a (mostly) weekly preview of key congressional activity for those with more than a passing interest in federal policy.
World Champions: As you undoubtedly know by now, the Atlanta Braves beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series. This is the second World Series the Braves have won since moving to Atlanta in 1966. The last one came in 1995. (I was 14 when the Braves won that World Series. I’m 40 now.) I can’t tell you what Braves winning the World Series means to Atlanta. I’ve never seen anything like it. When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put out a special edition of the paper to celebrate the win, the paper went fast. People waited in line for hours to get a copy. One woman I met drove from Augusta, Georgia to Metro Atlanta—about 115 miles—to grab copies. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up on Friday for the parade through the city. Georgia-based sports teams, including college teams, haven’t had much luck in recent years. We’ve had to endure years of disappointment, but the Braves have breathed life into Atlanta that I haven’t seen in years. Atlanta believed the Braves could win. Fans rallied around this team. They won. They brought home a championship to a city starving for one. I couldn’t be prouder of Atlanta and this team. But there’s one more big thing the Braves need to do, and that’s making sure Freddie Freeman remains a part of the team.
BIF passes, Build Back Better Act vote is expected: Well, it may have taken a long time and a lot of drama to get across the finish line, but the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF), H.R. 3684, late in the evening on Friday. H.R. 3684 now goes to President Biden’s desk for his signature. He will sign the bill. Moderate and progressive Democrats had to work out how to handle the budget reconciliation bill—the Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376—to get to a point where the House could pass the BIF. Moderates didn’t want to take a vote on the Build Back Better Act without an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office—the official budgetary scorekeeper for Congress—and they gave a commitment to progressives that they would support the bill when the cost estimate comes out. That cost estimate should be released in the next week to ten days, but there is a chance it could take longer. The House also passed the rule governing the consideration of the Build Back Better Act before leaving town. A vote on the Build Back Better Act is expected next week. Of course, passage in the House is only one step. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) still isn’t there on the bill, so it will change in the Senate, and the House-passed bill will also go through a “Byrd bath” to strip out provisions that violate its privileged status under the rules of budget reconciliation. Regardless of a vote on the House, the Build Back Better Act still has a long way to go.
Pelosi’s letter to House Democrats: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to House Democrats yesterday in which she confirmed that the Build Back Better Act will be on the floor next week. Pelosi wrote, “As we say, our diversity is our strength, our unity is our power. In order for Democrats to Deliver For The People, we must, as John Lewis said, ‘keep our eyes on the prize.’ As has been agreed, when the House comes back into session the week of November 15th, we will act with a message that is clear and unified to produce results.”
One provision of note: Sec. 137504 of the Build Back Better Act repeals the denial of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on the basis of a state or federal felony drug conviction in 26 U.S.C. § 25A(b)(2)(D). This is the only statutory denial on the basis of criminal conduct, and it’s ridiculous. My colleague at the R Street Institute, Jillian Snider, and I sent a letter in support of this provision at the end of October. As we note in the letter, “A criminal conviction is already a barrier for those who are seeking a better life, but the arbitrary denial of incentives like the American Opportunity Tax Credit because of a felony drug conviction only makes those barriers more difficult to get through.” This provision is based on a previous bipartisan effort to repeal the denial of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on the basis of a state or federal felony drug conviction. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that this provision of the bill will cost $180 million over ten years.
The longest vote: The House saw the longest vote in modern history on Friday. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) made a motion to adjourn. This is a privileged motion that requires a vote. It’s routine, especially during the pandemic, that votes go past their usually allotted time (in this case, it was supposed to be a 15-minute vote), but this vote was held open for a little more than seven hours—from approximately 8:12 am until 3:15 pm. Prior to this vote on Friday, the longest vote came in June 2003 when the House passed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which created Medicare Part D. That vote was kept open for almost three hours as Republicans twisted arms to get the votes for passage.
Political divisions in the House: Reps. Shontel Brown (D-OH) and Mike Carey (R-OH) were sworn in after last week winning special elections in OH-11 and OH-15, respectively. There are now 221 Democrats and 213 Republicans in the House. The only vacancy in the House is in FL-20, which was previously held by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). Hastings passed away in April. The special election to fill the vacancy in FL-20 will take place on January 11, 2022.
Committee work week in the House: The House will be back on Monday, November 15. Apart from pro forma sessions, the House is in recess this week. Committees will be meeting throughout the week. Below are some House committee hearings that may be of interest. The full House committee schedule for the week can be found here. More hearings may be added.
Does Discrimination Exist in Federal Passenger Rail Contracting? (Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; Tuesday at 11:00 am)
There's No Pride in Prejudice: Eliminating Barriers to Full Economic Inclusion for the LGBTQ+ Community (Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion, Tuesday at 12:00 pm)
Hearing on Legislative Measures (Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands; Tuesday at 1:00 pm)
Oversight of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights: Lessons Learned from the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (House Administration, Tuesday at 3:00 pm)
Weathering the Storm: Reauthorizing the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology; Wednesday at 10:00 am)
Hunger Among Veterans and Servicemembers: Understanding the Problem and Evaluating Solutions (Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations; Wednesday at 12:00 pm)
Recess in the Senate: The Senate is in recess this week, although the chamber will briefly gavel in for pro forma sessions. The Senate will be back in session on Monday, November 15. There are no committee meetings this week.
Vaccine mandate on hold: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted an emergency motion to stay the Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule mandating certain employers to require employees to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. The holding from the three-judge panel states that “the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.” Although this case will almost certainly wind up before the Supreme Court, the next step is the consideration of a permanent injunction. The panel has given the government until today at 5:00 pm to respond to the motion from the petitioners.
Due Process Institute is a bipartisan nonprofit that works to honor, preserve, and restore principles of fairness in the criminal legal system.