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House passes Biden’s $1.7 trillion social safety net and climate package
The Build Back Better bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s likely to undergo some changes in order to win the support of all 50 Democratic-voting members.

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House passed sweeping legislation Friday aimed at expanding the social safety net and tackling climate change, a major step that moves a top legislative priority of President Joe Biden closer to his desk.

The House voted 220 to 213 to pass Biden’s Build Back Better bill, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the measure.

Cheers erupted on the House floor after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the bill passed, followed by chants of “Nancy” by Democrats.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is hoping for a vote before Christmas. The Senate is expected to make some changes in order to win the support of all 50 Democratic-voting members and comply with arcane budget rules. That will mean another vote in the House will be likely before the bill can become law.

The legislation includes a monthly per-child cash payment of up to $300 for most parents, child care funding, universal pre-K, an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies and Medicare hearing benefits. It also commits $555 billion toward combating climate change, the largest such effort in U.S. history.

The bill would be financed by tax increases on upper earners and corporations, more IRS enforcement and prescription drug savings by empowering Medicare to negotiate prices for certain medications.

“We are building back better. If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill, this bill is for you. And it is better,” Pelosi said on the House floor.

House Democrats had hoped to vote on the bill two weeks ago but a group of five centrist Democrats held it up over demands for a full cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, which released its analysis on Thursday and unlocked the votes from the holdouts.

The CBO projected the legislation would add $160 billion to the long-term deficit. But moderate Democrats were placated by Treasury Department estimates that said added IRS enforcement would yield larger savings and fully pay for the spending package.

In a lengthy speech that delayed the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blasted the legislation as the “most reckless and irresponsible spending bill in our nation’s history.”

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He said Biden’s agenda was even bigger than the New Deal and that “never in American history has so much been spent at one time.”

“If I sound angry, I am,” said McCarthy, who spoke for more than three hours, drawing jeers from several Democrats in the process.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, the crafting of the bill exposed deep divisions between moderates and progressives, with centrists consistently pushing to lower the price tag and strip out several provisions championed by liberals.

Some components of the bill are likely to change in the Senate, where Democrats have 50 votes and can’t afford any defections.

A provision in the House bill guaranteeing paid leave is opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and is at risk of being stripped out. An expansion of the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 to $80,000 faces resistance from some senators, while immigration policies allowing legal status for young “Dreamers” and others may run afoul of budget rules.

“The BBB is very important to America. We believe it’s very popular with Americans. We aim to pass it before Christmas,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week.

The House vote came two weeks after Congress cleared an infrastructure package that boosts spending to $1.2 trillion for highways, roads, bridges, broadband expansion and other projects. Earlier this year, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to provide Covid-19 relief and stimulate the economy.

If the Build Back Better legislation makes it to Biden’s desk, it will complete a legislative trifecta totaling nearly $5 trillion in approved new spending in less than a year — which Biden, Pelosi and Schumer see as important to their legacies.

A leading Israeli politician’s lobbying campaign against reopening a U.S. consulate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem has been amplified on Facebook by a network of fake accounts, according to research shared with NBC News.

The politician, former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a challenger to replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the leader of Israel’s opposition party, Likud, has spent time in Washington in recent months lobbying lawmakers not to reopen the consulate, which former President Donald Trump closed in 2019 after his administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The office provided consular services to Palestinian residents in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. President Joe Biden pledged when he took office to reopen the consulate and use it to rebuild diplomatic ties with Palestinians.

Since August, Barkat’s Facebook posts about the issue, including photos of Barkat with members of Congress, such as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have been shared by a network of at least 320 accounts determined to be fake by the Israeli disinformation research company FakeReporter. The researchers said such fake engagement can shape public perception of a politician’s popularity and game Facebook’s news feed algorithm so posts reach much larger audiences than they would organically.

They said the research highlights Facebook’s failure to effectively crack down on inauthentic networks that amplify political campaigns.

Former Jerusalem Mayor and Knesset member Nir Barkat speaks to Reuters in Jerusalem

Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat during an interview at his home in Jerusalem on Oct. 6. Nir Elias / Reuters file

“We believe that this work is critical to our life as citizens and to democracy,” said Achiya Schatz, the executive director of FakeReporter. “It’s frustrating that companies like Facebook, which have so much power over democracies, are not doing more to defend us and keep the spaces they have created safe. It is not good enough.”

Schatz said his team suspects, based on the complexity of the behavior of the profiles, that the network is made up of so-called sock puppet accounts, which are controlled and deployed centrally by humans, most likely working for a digital agency that lets customers pay to boost their digital popularity, rather than fully automated bots.

The offices of Cruz, McCarthy and Graham did not respond to requests for comment.

Facebook faces increasing scrutiny from members of Congress after a substantial leak of internal posts and documents was released to The Wall Street Journal and a consortium of media organizations, as well as to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The documents, released by Frances Haugen, a whistleblower and former Facebook employee, have shown how Facebook has struggled to police its platform for harmful content.

Margarita Franklin, a spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, stressed that the company has made efforts to address inauthentic behavior on the platform.

“We removed the majority of these accounts for fake likes and shares,” Franklin said, referring to the network identified by FakeReporter, which NBC News shared with Facebook. “We go after a range of inauthentic activities facing our entire industry — from fake engagement to sophisticated influence operations.”

She said it can be difficult, if not impossible, to prove whether the beneficiary of such fake engagement — in this case Barkat — was the one paying for it, because the transaction would have taken place outside Facebook’s platform.

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