Schumer Tees Up Uncertain Wednesday Vote on Infrastructure
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cemented plans for a Wednesday cliff-hanger vote on whether to begin debate on a $579 billion infrastructure plan that does not yet exist.
The New York Democrat’s move comes after negotiators failed through the weekend to reach a compromise on the bipartisan measure.
Schumer’s procedural maneuver puts pressure on the bipartisan group of 22 senators negotiating the package, but it also risks upending momentum behind a deal and handing him an embarrassing defeat.
Republicans have insisted a deal probably can’t be reached by Wednesday and a number have said they won’t support starting debate without legislation in hand.
“We need to see the bill before voting to go to it,” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said. “I think that’s pretty easily understood.”
Schumer has said he wants the Senate to vote before the August recess on the package authorizing more spending for projects like roads and bridges.
The Wednesday vote, Schumer said, is “simply about getting the process started here on the Senate floor.”
Schumer promised that if the bipartisan group reaches a final agreement by Thursday, he would put that legislation on the floor. If it isn’t, he will put forward language on infrastructure that has bipartisan consensus -- placeholder text that could be replaced by a final deal within days and before a final vote.
The bipartisan group negotiating the infrastructure package with the White House has struggled for weeks to hammer out details that can be turned into legislative text. They still haven’t settled on how to pay for their plan, a linchpin for an agreement.
“They have been working on this bipartisan framework for a month already, and it’s time to start the debate,” Schumer said on the floor Monday night.
Schumer said he had the backing for maneuver from several key moderate Democratic senators who are part of the negotiations -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Schumer needs all 50 members of his caucus, plus 10 Republicans, to advance the bill on Wednesday. Coming up short of 60 votes could short-circuit Schumer’s timeline for action this month, although the majority leader could attempt the vote gain at a later date.
Tester said the pressure of the Wednesday deadline may help the group drive toward a deal. The group plans to continue negotiations late Monday night.
“If you don’t push things around here things never get done,” Tester said.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, one the Republicans leading the effort, on Monday said there were about a dozen remaining issues heading into an evening discussion.
“We can’t support cloture for something we have accomplished yet,” he said.
When debates proceeded earlier this year on the floor amid ongoing negotiations on the China competitiveness bill and a hate crimes bill, there was at least something before everyone at the outset, he said.
“Let’s just do this in a sensible way. Let’s get a bill that people can see,” Portman said. “Members have no clue what’s in it because we haven’t resolved the issues yet. Once we know what’s in it, we’ll move forward.”
Asked if they could get a deal by Thursday, he responded, “I think we’re moving very quickly.”
Among the issues still on the table, senators are considering reversing a Trump-era policy that sought to eliminate rebates drug companies give benefit managers in Medicare Part D. The Trump administration proposed the rule to lower out-of-pocket costs for patients but reversing it could save Medicare substantial money.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the rule would increase federal Medicare spending by about $177 billion from 2020 through 2029.
Portman said he thinks the drug-prices pay-for will probably be used in some fashion in the package, but it’s not clear exactly how and how much.
Schumer has a second target this week -- agreement among Democrats on the $3.5 trillion budget framework for the biggest expansion of social spending in decades. The measure needs just 50 votes but it could prove just as challenging.
Details of that package, which encompasses the bulk of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, are scarce. Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, said he doesn’t have an estimate of when a budget resolution text will be ready. He said if the infrastructure deal falls apart, he wants it included in that package.
Tester and Manchin, two Democratic senators from Republican-dominated states, have said they want more specifics, including how it would be paid for, before committing to support it.
Schumer needs the backing of all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats to both pass the fiscal blueprint and to later approve legislation making its envisioned changes on taxes, health care, climate change, immigration and other policies without GOP support.
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