Senate nears pivotal vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal that’s still unwritten

Source: By MARIANNE LEVINE and BURGESS EVERETT, Politico • Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2021

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he will tee up a vote on the agreement as its authors race to turn a framework into text.

Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters with a folder in his hand.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to put the proposal to fund roads, bridges and other concrete projects on the floor before Congress’ August recess. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

The Senate left town Thursday with the fate of a bipartisan infrastructure package uncertain, despite Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to force it forward by advancing a floor vote next week.

Schumer has scheduled the vote for next Wednesday, a hardball tactic Democrats hope will allow them to pass President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda before the August recess. But negotiators face several outstanding issues, both on funding mechanisms and spending priorities.

On Thursday evening, the proposal to increase IRS enforcement as a way to raise new revenues was on the way out, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter. A third source said the group of senators haggling over the bill had begun discussing alternatives.

“I don’t know if we’ll make anybody’s arbitrary timeline,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the lead Republican negotiator. “I appreciate the fact that the Majority Leader wants us to have a vote on this and to have a vote as soon as possible. I don’t disagree with that. But as soon as possible means when it’s ready.”

Among the proposed funding sources that could change is a provision related to IRS enforcement, a controversial subject for Republicans. The idea of plowing $40 billion into increased tax enforcement had become increasingly toxic in the Senate GOP, and its demise leaves negotiators with a gaping revenue hole.

One Senate Democrat suggested that money from increased IRS enforcement could instead be used to pay for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package.

In addition, negotiators need to resolve details related to water infrastructure, as well as how to allocate the broadband provisions in the package.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) suggested Thursday he had no problem with Schumer holding a vote next week.

“It gives you a goal to set,” he said. “And you give it everything you got. Is it going to be drop-dead? I don’t think. I haven’t heard that.”

Although Democrats expressed optimism about the timetable, Republicans were less sure. At the moment, it’s not clear whether 10 Republicans will vote to advance the bipartisan bill.

When asked whether he was confident the bipartisan group would meet Schumer’s deadline, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the group, had a blunt response: “No.”

Several Senate Republicans read Schumer’s Wednesday vote as an effort to sink the bipartisan talks, given the absence of legislative text and the likelihood that members will not yet have a score from the Congressional Budget Office by Wednesday.

“Why in the world would you vote for something that hasn’t been written yet,” asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell confidante. “I don’t know whether Sen. Schumer is just setting this all up to fail so he can then move to the budget. That may part of his Machiavellian scheme.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who attempted to negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure package but failed, interpreted Schumer’s move as an attempt “to put pressure on the group to either put up or shut up.”

Schumer’s timetable comes as the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure negotiators failed to meet their self-imposed Thursday deadline to resolve outstanding issues among members. As he left the Capitol Thursday, Schumer said negotiators still had “plenty of time” to finish the package.

Schumer will take the first steps toward moving the bipartisan physical infrastructure proposal Monday, using a House bill as a legislative vehicle that would later be amended to reflect the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure deal. Even if a deal is clinched and the Senate votes to move ahead on the bill next week, it will likely take days or even weeks to finish its work on the bipartisan legislation because of intense desire to vote on amendments to a bill likely to win Biden’s signature.

In addition to Wednesday’s vote on the bipartisan package, Schumer imposed a deadline that same day for Democrats to coalesce around a budget resolution setting up the $3.5 trillion plan. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has vowed that the House will not move forward on the bipartisan infrastructure package until the Senate passes a budget setting up the $3.5 trillion social spending package. Senior Democrats do not expect that calculation to change based on the Senate’s latest moves.

With Democrats just starting to hash out the details of that party-line spending package, it could be weeks, if not months, before the House takes up the bipartisan bill.

Both the physical infrastructure and social spending bills are top priorities for Biden, who attended a Senate Democratic caucus lunch Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has withheld judgment so far on the bipartisan plan, encouraging his members to view it as a separate effort from Democrats’ $3.5 trillion bill. Several Republicans have expressed concerns about its financing and are waiting for an official score from the Congressional Budget Office once the bill’s text is completed.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.