GOP to Block Schumer on Infrastructure Vote -- for Now

Senate Republicans are set to thwart Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s bid to start Senate debate Wednesday on a still-unfinished infrastructure plan, but key GOP lawmakers said that the deal is not dead and that they will be ready to move ahead next week.

Schumer’s decision to force an early test vote Wednesday afternoon spurred a faster pace in protracted talks for a $579 billion infrastructure plan, but not the completed deal that GOP senators are demanding as a prerequisite to begin debate.

“Today, we are not going to be able to support moving forward,” lead GOP negotiator Rob Portman of Ohio said Wednesday morning on CNBC. “We will be able to on Monday, and I hope that is what the majority leader decides to do -- put this vote off until Monday.”

Utah Senator Mitt Romney, another GOP lawmaker in the talks, said at least 10 Republicans -- the number needed to proceed -- have committed to voting for the procedural move at the beginning of next week.

Indiana Republican Todd Young said his commitment is conditional on a deal being done. “If there is sufficient time for me to digest all that is there I think so,” he said of voting yes.

Eleven Republicans, including Romney, sent a letter to Schumer just before Wednesday’s vote saying they would vote Monday to start debate on the infrastructure bill, Romney said.

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said the deal should largely be ready by Monday, even if the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t finished evaluating its costs and revenue.

If the motion to move ahead on the Senate floor Wednesday fails, as expected, to get the 60 votes needed, talks among a bipartisan group of 22 senators could continue at least a few more days. Schumer could use a procedural maneuver to try again.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell called Wednesday’s vote a “stunt” that is doomed to fail. But he said that won’t be the end. “A failed cloture vote doesn’t mean ‘no’ forever,” he said.

Both sides said an agreement is near. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said Wednesday, “I’m incredibly optimistic,” adding that “There’s just not much left to do.”

A fellow Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, said Tuesday he was confident that a final deal would be struck.

“We know all the issues, we’re digging deep on things like pay-fors, and we wouldn’t be continuing this effort if we didn’t think we were going to get there,” Warner said.

GOP to Block Schumer on Infrastructure Vote -- for Now

At the same time, other Democrats in the House and Senate are growing impatient with the negotiations, which have been going on since the group of senators involved announced agreement on the general outlines of the plan with President Joe Biden at the White House almost a month ago. Some of them are advocating dropping the talks and adding the infrastructure package to a planned $3.5 trillion economic measure they could pass under Senate procedures without GOP support.

Taking that route would be a blow to attempts by Schumer and Biden to show voters that Democrats can find some common ground with Republicans. If an infrastructure deal can’t be reached, though, Schumer could use that to persuade Democratic moderates such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to go along with a partisan budget package.

The bipartisan group met late into the night on Tuesday to try to work out remaining differences on the infrastructure plan. They remained at odds on how to pay for the measure and how much to spend on public transit, among other items, though both Portman and Sinema said progress had been made.

Another member of the group, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said he “hopes” a deal can be reached by the end of the week but was uncertain because the timing depends on getting feedback from the White House, budget scorekeepers and lawmakers outside the group.

“The Republicans will probably all vote no to a person, but obviously many of us are planning to vote yes on final passage,” Cassidy said Tuesday night. He added that his goal was to complete an agreement by Monday.

Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said he expects that all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats will vote Wednesday in favor of beginning debate on infrastructure.

Schumer has argued that the Senate frequently votes to begin debate on a measure that is still being negotiated and that Wednesday is not the final deadline for bill text, rather a milepost to quicken the pace of talks. He said Wednesday that there will “many, many opportunities” for a bipartisan deal to be substituted as the bill under debate once a deal is reached.

The group agreed over the weekend to drop enhanced tax enforcement audits from the bill, something the group was hoping would raise $100 billion. Portman said the group may substitute a delay in a Trump-era rule aimed at reducing rebates given to pharmaceutical benefit managers under Medicare Part D. Delaying the rule a few years could yield $80 billion or more, senators have said.

Another thorny issue for the group is how much funding to deliver to public transit. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, told reporters that Republicans are trying to spend more than 80% of new funds on highways, in violation of a longstanding tradition.

‘Strict 80/20’

“We have had a history for 40 years we have had 20% transit,” Brown said. “I’m willing to accept a strict 80/20 and they aren’t. They want less.”

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who isn’t a part of the bipartisan group but attempted to strike a deal with Biden on infrastructure earlier this year, said the issue of how to pay for the bipartisan infrastructure plan “was always going to be the most difficult and it remains that way.”

Capito said Tuesday on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin” the demands from House Democrats including linking the infrastructure deal to a budget framework for additional spending and climate measures remains “an enormous problem for the White House and the bipartisan group.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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