US infrastructure bill still a work in progress, faces test on Senate floor
President Joe Biden’s goal of passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill faces a test on Wednesday as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presses ahead with a planned procedural vote despite Republican appeals for delay.
Weeks after senators from both parties reached agreement on the outline of a bill to rebuild roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure, Schumer sought to start floor debate on the measure with a vote on a motion to proceed. The vote is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
But Republicans who helped negotiate it said the bill was not ready, lacking a complete text and cost estimates. Republican Senator Mitt Romney said he had written to Schumer to ask for a delay.
With the Senate split 50-50 on party lines, the bipartisan measure needs the support of at least 10 Republicans to garner the 60 votes required to advance under Senate rules.
Romney warned on Tuesday that if the vote goes ahead, he and other Republicans will vote “no” even if they support the broad infrastructure framework. It is unclear what would happen next, although Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell insisted that alone would not torpedo the effort, because the Senate could later reconsider.
“I still hope that he (Schumer) can be prevailed upon to delay the vote until Monday,” Republican Senator Susan Collins, another member of the bipartisan group, said on Tuesday between meetings with Democrats. “We’re making progress. We’re working nonstop.”
But some progressive Democrats worried that Republicans are deliberately trying to drag out negotiations on a measure they ultimately will not support.
“They’ve been killing time for months and at this point, I believe that it’s starting to get to a point where this bipartisan effort is seeming to serve less on investing in our infrastructure and serving more the end of just delaying action,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading Democratic progressive, told reporters.
Biden has deemed the bipartisan infrastructure bill essential. But he also wants Congress to pass a separate $3.5 trillion budget initiative that includes climate change and social spending provisions that are anathema to most Republicans.
Democrats want to push the larger measure through Congress along party lines as soon as the bipartisan bill is finished.
Schumer said his bid to launch debate on an unfinished bill was nothing unusual. Other Democrats said Schumer was simply trying to get control of the schedule after the bipartisan group spent weeks haggling over details, including how to pay for the measure.
“We never, almost never wait on a complex bill like this for the full bill to be put on the floor to be debated,” Schumer told reporters. “So we’re moving forward, and we’re hoping our Republicans friends decide they want to move forward as well.”
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)