Senate Sets Up Weekend Infrastructure Vote After Delays
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate is heading toward a weekend vote on its $550 billion infrastructure legislation, after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to rush passage late Thursday was thwarted by disagreements over cryptocurrency and other matters.
Senators huddled for hours on and off the floor to discuss final changes to legislation that numbers some 2,702 pages and has been the subject of weeks of negotiations with the White House. But agreement proved elusive and final passage of the massive bill got pushed until at least Saturday.
The bill is a key element of President Joe Biden’s agenda and the White House was directly involved in the negotiations. On Friday, he urged lawmakers to follow through, saying the legislation “would end years of gridlock in Washington and and create millions of good-paying jobs.”
Among the unresolved issues is how to modify a provision of the bill dealing with reporting requirements for cryptocurrency transactions for tax collections. The cryptocurrency industry said the original version of the bill unfairly targeted them and was too broad in scope.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Cynthia Lummis proposed a narrower approach focused on those who conduct transactions on exchanges. But Senators Rob Portman, a Republican, and Democrats Mark Warner and Kyrsten Sinema proposed an 11th-hour alternative endorsed by the White House. It would target some software companies and cryptocurrency miners.
“We believe that the alternative amendment put forward by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema strikes the right balance and makes an important step forward in promoting tax compliance,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Toomey said they were at “an impasse” on the issue.
Another pending amendment would allow state and local governments to use up to 30% of their unspent Covid relief funds on infrastructure projects. GOP Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who sponsored the change with Democratic Senator Alex Padilla, said he bargained with the Biden administration on the change, which would free up between $80 billion and $100 billion for projects. But it has yet to be scheduled for a vote.
Schumer and Senate Republicans spent hours attempting to reach an agreement on how many other amendments would be considered before a vote on the legislation.
“We have been trying to vote on amendments all day but have encountered numerous objections from the other side,” Schumer said on the Senate floor just before midnight. “However, we very much want to finish important bill, so we will reconvene Saturday.”
Patience wore thin as the hours passed.
“Everybody’s in a bad mood in there,” California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said as she left the Senator floor late Thursday night.
The infrastructure bill includes $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, $73 billion for electric grid upgrades, $66 billion for rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion for broadband expansion. It also provides $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion for transit.
The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that the bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over a decade, though negotiators say the nonpartisan agency didn’t give full credit for the package’s offsets.
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The soonest the vote could be held under Senate procedures is Saturday. Many senators left Washington early Friday to attend the funeral of former GOP Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who died last week following a bicycle accident.
Passage of the infrastructure package would set the stage for later consideration of Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic package, a partisan drive to overhaul policies on climate change, taxes, health care, immigration and other areas.
Senate Democrats will advance to the Senate in just a few days a fiscal blueprint that helps them trigger a Senate procedure that could short-circuit the filibuster and clear the economic package this fall with only Democratic support.
The infrastructure package still faces challenges in the House, where Democrats can only afford three defectors if Republicans vote in unison against the bill. House Democrats are divided over whether the package spends enough and many Republicans oppose the bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed Friday that the House won’t take up the infrastructure legislation until the Senate also passes a second, more sweeping economic package. That linkage has been a central demand of progressive Democrats in the House, though moderates have been calling on Pelosi to relent. The House is currently on a recess until Sept. 20.
“We are not going forward with leaving people behind,” Pelosi said at a news conference.
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