Schumer Heads for Infrastructure Vote Defeat as Talks Drag

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to begin Senate debate Wednesday on a still-unfinished bipartisan infrastructure bill is on track to fail, with Republicans saying that there is no way a deal can be reached by then and that they won’t vote to open debate without text spelling out the deal.

A bipartisan group of 22 senators announced a deal on a $579 billion infrastructure outline with President Joe Biden nearly one month ago, but have been unable to agree on the details of the package — particularly how to pay for the new spending. Schumer on Monday scheduled a Wednesday test vote to begin debate and would need 60 votes, including 10 Republicans if all Democrats and independents vote yes.

“We’re not going to have a product ready tomorrow for consideration,” lead GOP negotiator Rob Portman of Ohio said. Portman said that until there is an actual bill to consider he won’t support moving forward.

Utah Republican Mitt Romney, also a member of the group, urged Schumer to delay the vote until Monday to give the talks more time.

“I think all of the issues will be resolved,“ Romney told reporters, estimating that a deal can be had by the end of this week. He said that over the last two days, 75% of outstanding issues had been resolved. He said there needs to be time to write up the deal and circulate it to members before holding a vote.

Other GOP members of the bipartisan group such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas told reporters they would also vote against beginning debate on Wednesday — virtually guaranteeing Schumer’s deadline would not be met.

Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, another member of the group, 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.

Democrats in the group were reluctant to estimate when a deal could be had. Schumer has argued that the Senate frequently votes to begin debate on a bill 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.

Schumer said Wednesday’s vote is nothing more than a kick-off for a days-long debate on infrastructure, and that there are “many, many opportunities” for a bipartisan deal to be substituted as the bill under debate once a deal is reached.

“This is not a deadline” to decide every detail, he said

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

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine called on Schumer to delay the procedural vote until the beginning of next week. She said forcing the issue “does not achieve any goal except to alienate people.”

Core members of the infrastructure group plan to huddle Tuesday afternoon to try to make more progress on an agreement.

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 the group $80 billion or more, senators have said.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who isn’t a part of the bipartisan group but previously attempted to strike a deal with Biden on infrastructure, 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 remain “an enormous problem for the White House and the bipartisan group.”