Clock is Ticking on ‘Build Back Better’

If only Congress would take its winter break, then the rest of the nation – in other words, the non-elite – could enjoy the Christmas season. But, a congressional recess much before December 23 may be as improbable as a down-the-chimney visit from jolly Old St. Nick. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the quintessential Christmas grinch, has vowed to keep the Upper Chamber in session until Build Back Better (BBB) gets a full floor vote.


Schumer may be optimistic, but he’s also stubborn. Several road blocks stand in Schumer’s way. First, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough who has ruled twice against including amnesty in the $1.7 trillion social spending bill must be favorably swayed. The parliamentarian decides what can be included in Senate legislation, and has rejected two previous proposals. Most congressional Democrats, Senate and House, want amnesty as well as other affirmative benefits including work permission granted to about seven or eight million unlawfully present foreign nationals. But when amnesty is the goal, Democrats’ never-say-die commitment evolved into a third iteration for MacDonough’s review. Plan C’s fate is unknown.


Schumer’s second Senate hurdle is West Virginia’s Joe Manchin who has sent various signals that he’s leery. Most recently, Manchin said that he wouldn’t defy the parliamentarian’s immigration decision. Manchin: “The bottom line is the parliamentarian; you stick with the parliamentarian, that’s all. You stick on every issue. You can’t pick and choose.”


From the outset, Manchin has expressed concerns over what’s now a nearly $2 trillion package; he was influential in cutting the price tag from its original $3.5 trillion. But despite the $1.5 trillion cut, Manchin, concerned about hyperinflation and the nation’s tenuous economy, is still edgy. Manchin also reiterated his long-held concern that that Democrats are using budget gimmicks to conceal the true, higher cost of the president’s spending bill.


For months, President Biden assured Americans that BBB wouldn’t cost a penny. In September, Biden tweeted that his then $3.5 trillion BBB agenda “costs zero dollars,” a claim that Republicans bluntly labeled “a lie.” Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) quickly countered Biden with the impossible-to-dispute calculation that a $3.5 trillion cost can’t possibly translate to zero dollars.


The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation gave Tenney a figurative A+ math grade. They projected that the modified version of the bill they reviewed would increase the national deficit by $3 trillion over the 2022 – 2031 period, a total that includes the effect of interest cost.


BBB’s amnesty provisions alone will cost taxpayers $124 billion over the first decade, and would create an additional $359 billion in net costs during the second post-passage decade, making amnesty’s total net cost over 20 years a whopping $483 billion.


As the Center for Immigration Studies observed, amnesty costs increase over time as illegal immigrants become eligible for more and more social programs, especially Social Security and Medicare. The millions of illegal immigrants that BBB covers will also immediately qualify for parole, an immigration status that includes work permission, protection from deportation and other affirmative benefits. An already-weak labor market that the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report reflected will expand when millions of newly work-authorized immigrants enter the employment market to compete with or displace Americans.


Little if anything in BBB will enhance American lives. On the other hand, Biden, congressional Democrats, D.C. bureaucrats, the big businesses that hire cheap labor, illegal immigrants and the immigration lawyers they’ll hire to advise them will all gain significantly.


The best thing BBB opponents have in their favor, Republicans and Democrats alike, is that if Manchin votes “yea,” he’ll be out of his Senate job in 2024. In 2016, heavily Republican West Virginia rejected Biden; Trump carried the state by nearly 40 points, a margin that Manchin can’t hope to make up if he endorses BBB.