Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced he intends to set a key test vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill next Wednesday, forcing negotiators into a final agreement on $1.1 trillion in spending on the nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways.
The measure will require a minimum of 60 votes ― including at least 10 Republicans ― to advance.
“The time has come to make progress. We will, and we must,” Schumer said in a speech on Thursday.
The bipartisan group of negotiators was expected to release text for their bill this week, but they have yet to reach a final agreement. How to pay for the proposal remains a major sticking point among the 10 Republican and 10 Democratic lawmakers.
When the group first unveiled an outline of their proposal, 11 Republicans signed on. But nearly half of those GOP lawmakers aren’t fully committing to voting for a package until the revenue-raisers are agreed to.
Some of the ideas — like having the IRS better enforce tax avoidance, funding projects through private-public partnerships, or using leftover COVID-19 relief funds — have been criticized by both sides. Negotiators said that strengthening IRS enforcement, a Democratic priority, could fall out of the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has kept quiet on the bipartisan deal, as the lawmakers in the negotiating group continue to hash out details. Until they do, support remains on shaky ground.
Schumer said Wednesday’s vote will be on a legislative “vehicle” that can later be amended with the text of the bipartisan bill, giving negotiators more time to iron out details. But the schedule is designed to put Republicans on record and advance talks that have dragged on for months.
However, top GOP senators said the move could backfire.
“I don’t think they’re going to vote to get on a bill they haven’t seen,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters. “It’s an artificial deadline and I’m not sure why he’s doing it. I understand he wants to try and get the process moving forward, but it could be really counterproductive on his end if he actually wants a result.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a member of the bipartisan group, added that “it would be a dereliction of duty to vote for a bill that hasn’t been drafted.”
“We are not going to vote on something until we actually have a bill,” Romney said.
Another potential hitch is Democrats’ plan to pass a separate $3.5 trillion “human” infrastructure bill through the budget reconciliation process — which can be advanced without Republican support — that will include parts of their agenda they couldn’t get the GOP to support.
Republicans balked at the proposal Wednesday, but wouldn’t say whether Democrats’ massive spending plan for liberal priorities would stop them from supporting the bipartisan infrastructure proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear last month that the lower chamber would not be voting on a bipartisan bill unless it was accompanied by a budget reconciliation proposal filling in the gaps in Democratic priorities.
In addition to forcing the bipartisan negotiations, Schumer said he was also setting a Wednesday deadline for all 50 Senate Democrats to agree to their $3.5 trillion budget. Key Senate moderates such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia are withholding their support for the measure until they see more details, including climate and financing provisions.
The massive spending proposal includes money for housing, nutrition, climate, health care, immigration and child care. It is expected to be financed in part by taxes on the wealthy and savings from prescription drug pricing reform.