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House votes to expand tax benefit that could lift millions of kids out of poverty

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House has overwhelmingly approved a deal to expand the child tax credit for three years.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is expected to be quickly taken up by the Senate, and if signed into law, it would benefit 16 million kids and could lift as many as half a million out of poverty. The deal, which also contains substantial business tax cuts, is the result of negotiations between Republican Representative Jason Smith and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in a rare moment of bipartisanship for this highly divided Congress.

FADEL: NPR's Eric McDaniel is here to tell us more. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning, good morning.

FADEL: The margins on this vote - 357-70. I mean, what was it about this bill that got so many people who constantly disagree to agree?

MCDANIEL: Well, it was a couple things. You're right, these margins were huge. And I love to be glib about Congress, maybe even more than the average person. This bill does need to still clear some hurdles, namely the U.S. Senate, but it's one of the bills that a lot of folks around the country will really feel.

I do want to acknowledge that the child tax credit here is not quite as robust as its COVID-era counterpart, which lifted roughly 3 million children out of poverty. In fact, that led some progressives that you might have heard of, like Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to oppose the bill. It also contains big tax cuts for corporations, which brought a lot of Republicans along. But folks who know, they're still saying that this bill is pretty monumental, and I think you saw that on the scoreboard last night. It passed with huge majorities of both parties.

FADEL: I mean, I think it's also worth saying, though, it had to pass with huge majorities because a small number of opposition Republicans were ready to kill it, right?

MCDANIEL: That's right. Like we've talked about before, there's a faction of the House Republican conference that sees bipartisan legislating as failure and oppose all but the most staunchly conservative proposals. That opposition from the House Freedom Caucus and their allies, they blocked a procedural step, which meant the deal had to pass under something called suspension of the rules, which is basically a two-thirds majority of the House, which it got, like we said.

But in addition to those progressive oppositions and the opposition from anti-compromise Republicans, there were also some blue-state Republican members, folks like Anthony D'Esposito of Long Island, who hoped to push for more tax relief in places like New York with higher state taxes.

FADEL: Was this bill backed by the top Republican, Speaker Mike Johnson?

MCDANIEL: So this is interesting to me. Speaker Johnson was hesitant to schedule the bill for a vote because of the internal Republican disagreements I mentioned. And when it did get scheduled, he put out a statement praising the tax cuts without mentioning the child poverty measures at all. He did eventually vote for it. But this suspension of the rule stuff, which is just another way to say he needs Democratic votes to get things passed, is really not a tool he likes using because it upsets some people in his party, and it could eventually cost him the job like it did Speaker McCarthy.

FADEL: So there is also bipartisan negotiation over immigration in the Senate, and that was looking promising for a while. But this time, House Republicans could doom the bill. What's different about those negotiations?

MCDANIEL: You're right. These are similar processes in a lot of ways. They're bipartisan negotiations without the involvement of party leaders - sort of a bottom-up thing. But the political pressures are quite different. Immigration is a very visible political issue in the presidential campaign. GOP front-runner Donald Trump has been focused on killing that deal, posting about it online a lot. And the child tax credit has just not gotten that kind of focus for him.

And you see that in Speaker Mike Johnson's rhetoric. After Republicans insisted Ukraine and Israel be tied to this immigration reform proposal, Johnson used his first floor speech as speaker on this floor of the House yesterday to try and kill the immigration deal before it even leaves the Senate. So I think it's true - probably true to say Republicans want to address the very real issues facing the U.S. immigration system - record number of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border. But a lot of them want to see Trump elected more.

FADEL: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thanks, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.