Bipartisan infrastruc­ture bill hits snag as GOP seeks delay

- Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON – The odds a bipartisan infrastruc­ture bill will move forward Wednesday appear grim as Senate Republican negotiator­s said they wouldn’t vote to debate the measure because details haven’t been finalized.

“We can’t support cloture for something we haven’t accomplish­ed yet,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead negotiator for Republican­s. “We haven’t come to agreement on key issues.”

The negotiator­s are crucial to moving the bill along. Nearly a dozen Senate Republican­s, including Portman, struck a deal with President Joe Biden in June on the infrastruc­ture plan. Since the 50 Democratic senators need at least 10 Republican­s to support the bill to clear a parliament­ary hurdle for debate, losing the support of just a few could stall the bill.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, another negotiator, said he would vote against beginning debate Wednesday on the bill and said the group will send Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., a letter asking to postpone the vote to Monday. Romney said threequart­ers of the disputed issues had been resolved in the past two days.

“I would expect that by the end of the week, we’ll have them all resolved,” Romney said. “We’ll be ready Monday. We won’t have the full text, of course, but we’ll have a detailed outline.”

“I hope we won’t have a motion to proceed on Wednesday,” said another negotiator, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I hope it will be put off.”

The Senate vote will be a test of whether any of President Joe Biden’s ambitious and expensive economic proposals can become law. The bipartisan package would offer hundreds of billions of dollars for roads, bridges, railways and broadband.

Informal talks could continue if the Senate votes Wednesday against debating it on the floor. But because of the crush of other legislatio­n dealing with routine spending, voting rights and a policing overhaul, a Senate rejection of infrastruc­ture could thwart one of the most auspicious prospects for bipartisan cooperatio­n this year.

Schumer said he would hold the vote Wednesday.

“The Senate Democrats are keeping their foot on the gas pedal,” Schumer said. “It’s not an attempt to jam anyone, it’s just a vote on whether senators are ready to begin debating the issue.”

The most contentiou­s aspects of negotiatio­ns involve how to pay for the legislatio­n at a time of outsized spending during the pandemic. One option was to boost IRS enforcemen­t of tax collection­s, but that hasn’t been resolved.

Congress approved $3.3 trillion in response to the pandemic during the Trump administra­tion last year and $1.9 trillion under Biden in March.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republican­s insisted on having legislativ­e text before voting on the bipartisan bill.

“It really is a parody,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “If my constituen­ts think I was voting on a bill that hadn’t been written yet and I didn’t know how much it would cost, they would probably try to recall me.”

Democrats contended that repairing and expanding crumbling infrastruc­ture is too important to postpone. Democratic negotiator­s described working late into the night to resolve dozens of disputes.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Monday that Republican­s opposing the debate for lack of legislativ­e text would be “a problem,” but Schumer’s strategy to force a vote shouldn’t kill the bill.

“Hopefully, people will be smarter than that,” Tester said.

If the legislatio­n reaches the Senate, lawmakers would have 30 hours to debate and amend the bill. Schumer said that if no consensus was reached Thursday, he would add other legislatio­n through four major amendments.

The four additional bills, which were each approved in committee in bipartisan votes, involve water projects, highways, railways and energy.

“I understand that both sides are working very hard to turn the bipartisan infrastruc­ture framework into final legislatio­n, and they will continue to have more time to debate, amend and perfect the bill once the Senate votes to take up this crucial issue,” Schumer said. “But they have been working on this bipartisan framework for more than a month already, and it’s time to begin the debate.”

The debate is likely to become more rancorous over $3.5 trillion legislatio­n that Schumer said the Senate will consider during the July work period, which he warned might extend into August.

Senate Democrats proposed to spend that money on Biden’s economic priorities dealing with caregivers and education. Republican­s contend Democrats want to spend irresponsi­bly while inflation is growing.

Democrats are pursuing a strategy for approving it potentiall­y without any Republican votes, using a legislativ­e maneuver called reconcilia­tion, which would allow a simple majority of the 100-member Senate to approve it, rather than needing to clear a 60-vote hurdle to avoid a Republican filibuster. Democrats and Republican­s each have 50 votes, and Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tiebreakin­g vote.

“We can’t support cloture for something we haven’t accomplish­ed yet.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

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