Chairman Neal Opening Statement at Markup of the Build Back Better Act
Washington, September 9, 2021
(As prepared for delivery)
Today, we begin consideration of this committee’s contribution to the Build Back Better Act, which will make crucial investments to create jobs, lower the cost of health care, and support America’s workers and families.
The American people have endured a grueling year and a half. The pandemic has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of our family members, friends, and neighbors. Millions of workers lost their jobs as COVID decimated the economy. Others had to leave the workforce to care for children as schools moved to virtual instruction and day care facilities closed their doors altogether. Global supply chains were upended, and entire industries suffered devastating losses.
But conditions could have been even worse had Congress not acted swiftly and boldly to slow the spread of the virus, keep small businesses afloat, and ensure working families received support to stay in their homes and afford essentials. I’m proud that the Ways and Means Committee authored the majority of the policies that made such a tremendous difference in confronting the public health emergency and getting our economy back on track.
Under the Biden Administration, millions of jobs have returned, three-fourths of American adults have had at least one vaccine dose, and schools are reopening for in-person learning. But we aren’t out of the woods yet. As the Delta variant tears through the nation, hospitals are packed to capacity and there are signs the economy is feeling the effects of reduced commerce and travel as people stay home to stay safe. Congress’s work to rebuild must go on.
As we continue to build back from the devastation, we need to do so in a way that acknowledges the longstanding shortcomings in our society and economy that were both exposed and exacerbated by the COVID crisis. The reality is that many of the hardships Americans experienced during the pandemic were merely heightened versions of challenges they faced long before the coronavirus reached our shores.
Over the coming days, we will consider recommendations that make smart investments to protect Americans’ health and to strengthen our economy in a way that grows the labor force, empowers working families, and tackles the worsening climate crisis. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to make transformative, beneficial change.
This is our moment to lay a new foundation of opportunity for the American people.
Our nation’s inadequate child care options and lack of paid family and medical leave have prevented talented workers from contributing to our economy. In several hearings and roundtables over the past couple years, our Committee heard directly from mothers and other caregivers who all emphasized that these problems are not new. They also clearly explained the profound returns that investments in these worker supports can supply.
For example. Molly Moon Neitzel – a mom and small business owner from Seattle – spoke of how her decision eight years ago to provide her employees with 12 weeks of paid leave allowed her to more easily recruit talented workers and retain valuable staff. Maintaining that policy became much easier and more affordable for her when Washington State implemented its universal 12-week paid family and medical leave benefit.
She also told us of her personal struggles to find and pay for child care while managing her business. She emphasized how a significant investment in our nation’s child care infrastructure wouldn’t only help families like hers, but would more broadly support the country’s economic recovery, global competitiveness, job growth, and children’s health and development.
Today we are proposing investments to provide universal paid leave and to guarantee access to affordable, quality child care – changes that will benefit employers and workers, alike. I thank all those who told their stories to the Committee with courage and candor and helped advance these measures to today’s markup.
The Committee will consider a number of additional pro-worker, job creating investments in the coming days. We propose devoting funds to support American workers, farmers, businesses, and communities that are facing hardship due to international competition.
We’ll continue devoting resources to the Health Profession Opportunity Grants program, which provides a supportive workforce training pathway to careers in health professions experiencing shortages of qualified applicants.
And we will make historic investments in clean energy that support the creation of new, good jobs while helping combat climate change and prepare for an increase in extreme weather events in the future. This Committee is committed to helping meet the President’s carbon emissions goals while creating well-paying jobs, and our 10-year, full value policy accomplishes that.
The COVID crisis has highlighted the treacherous circumstances Americans find themselves in when they don’t have savings set aside and an emergency strikes. The Committee will take up investments to make it easier for more people to save for retirement and improve their long-term financial security.
We’ll also extend the tremendously impactful expansions of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit from the American Rescue Plan, all while putting fairness back in our tax code.
And, of course, the pandemic has been first and foremost a public health crisis, underscoring the need to get more Americans enrolled in health insurance, improve access to care, and enhance protections for vulnerable communities. We will devote funds to help more people get covered, lower the cost of prescription medications, and expand Medicare coverage to include hearing, vision, and dental care.
The virus took an especially terrible toll on our nation’s seniors, and we propose an array of improvements related to long-term care facilities to keep the elderly safe at all times, especially during public health emergencies.
Over the past 18 months, communities of color in the United States disproportionately suffered due to the crisis. I applaud our Committee’s Racial Equity Initiative and Co-Chairs Terri Sewell, Jimmy Gomez, and Steven Horsford for helping us target funds in ways that seek to dismantle discriminatory systems and promote equitable economic growth.
This is an historic moment to make investments that reflect what we’ve learned during the pandemic so that the American people will be healthier and our economy will be more inclusive and resilient for generations to come. Over the next few days, the Ways and Means Committee will continue our ongoing work to ensure a better, brighter future for our nation.
And with that, I will now yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady, for the purposes of an opening statement.