Politics Infrastructure push on rocky ground as key Senate test vote looms
Senate may work into August to pass infrastructure plan and broader bill with climate, child care provisions
Democrats are trying to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan and a broader bill to address child care and climate change in the coming weeks.In a letter to his caucus, the New York Democrat said senators are working with the White House to turn the $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework into legislation. The Senate Budget Committee is also crafting a measure that would allow Democrats to pass a sprawling child care, health care and climate policy plan without a GOP vote.
It could all come together, or it could all fall apart.
Those are the stakes for President Joe Biden's infrastructure agenda as it faces a critical week in the Senate that could prove to be a make-or-break moment forand that Democrats intend to move on a party-line vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumeron the bipartisan deal on Wednesday, a timeline that puts pressure on negotiators to finalize an agreement they don't yet have and has angered Republicans who argue Schumer is trying to undermine their progress. Schumer is also calling for Senate Democrats be unified by Wednesday in their support for a budget resolution that would set the stage for later passage of Democrats' more sweeping infrastructure package -- and Democrats haven't all signed on.
Infrastructure bill: Schumer and Pelosi face leadership test as legislative push kicks into high gear
Democrats will face a critical month on infrastructure in July as they reckon with deep schisms in their ranks and questions over legislative strategy and policy specifics of a bill the party wants to position itself with ahead of the midterm elections. © Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/Getty Images U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak to members of the press after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the U.S. Capitol August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Democrats are facing a highly challenging calculus as they try to keep both efforts on track.
It's not yet clear whether and when negotiators can turn a bipartisan framework into fully fleshed out legislative text. Aides are warning that the talks are productive, but tedious with major sticking points surrounding how to finance the package.
A Democratic aide told CNN on Sunday that Republicans and Democrats in the bipartisan group agreed to scrap plans to fund the bipartisan deal by goingwith the IRS.
"Well, one reason it's not part of the proposal is that we did have pushback," Sen. Rob Portman told CNN's Dana Bash on "" when asked about Republican opposition to the idea.
Senate Democrats reach $3.5 trillion deal for Biden's 'human infrastructure' agenda, Medicare expansion
The package would expand Medicare benefits, fight climate change and target other "human infrastructure" priorities not part of a separate proposal.After a lengthy meeting among Democrats on the Senate’s Budget Committee, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, N.Y., announced the agreement for a budget reconciliation package that would fund what Biden has called "human infrastructure.
"Another reason is that we found out that the Democrats were going to put a proposal into the reconciliation package, which was not just similar to the one we had, but with a lot more IRS enforcement," the Ohio Republican said.
"That created quite a problem because the general agreement is that this is the bipartisan-negotiated infrastructure package and that we will stick with that," added Portman, a lead Republican negotiator in the group who said he has been working with the White House on the legislation.
Republicans are also pushing back against the looming deadline with some warning it could turn GOP senators against the proposal.
"It immediately sends a signal that this is a Schumer bill and they are trying to ram something through that no one has read and hasn't been evaluated," Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma said. "Even the people that wrote it, can't even read it."
Schumer Sets Wednesday Deadlines for Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Dems Budget Deal
The Democratic Senate leader is setting an ambitious deadline for next week, including scheduling a procedural vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill which has yet to be finalized.Speaking from the Senate floor on Thursday, the New York Democrat said his party is "making good progress on both tracks" when it comes to trying to pass bipartisan legislation on physical infrastructure as well as the Democrats' budget proposal with top priorities like education, health care, climate and immigration, which is going through the budget reconciliation process.
GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy, who participated in bipartisan negotiations to create the bill's framework, also criticized the procedural vote planned for Wednesday, telling "" that he wouldn't support it without a completed version of the bill.
"How can I vote for a cloture when the bill isn't written? Unless you want programmed failure, unless Sen. Schumer doesn't want this to happen, you need a little bit more time to get it right," the Louisiana Republican said.
On a parallel track, Schumer is trying to unite the entire Senate Democratic caucus to get on board with a $3.5 trillion budget deal that some progressivesand .
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a pivotal Senate swing vote, made clear he's not there yet when asked about Schumer's Wednesday deadline for all 50 Democrats to agree to a $3.5 trillion budget.
"That's a challenge," Manchin said. "You know I'll take a challenge, I'll work as hard as I can."
One Senate Democratic aide told CNN there is cautious optimism within the caucus that a bipartisan package and a reconciliation bill can get done, but at the same time said it wouldn't be surprising to see the bipartisan deal "go down in flames." The challenge for reconciliation, the aide said, is that "getting something that's moderate enough for Manchin, but liberal enough for the Squad is not an easy ask."
The huge Democratic bet on 'bricks and butter'
The spending proposals that Senate Democrats plan to begin advancing this week amount to a massive gamble that the party can simultaneously advance two of its longest-standing economic goals without generating a political backlash or overheating the economy. © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images President Joe Biden speaks with Heather Zaccagnini, right, Applied Technology Department co-chair, and college president Dr. Clint Gabbard during a tour of a manufacturing lab at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois, on July 7, 2021, part of a trip to tout his infrastructure proposals.
Test vote puts bipartisan deal in the spotlight
The bipartisan group of senatorswith the White House last month worked over the weekend to translate it into legislation, but sticking points remain.
As a result, some Republicans are arguing it's too early to set a deadline now given that it's unclear if legislation will even be ready this week.
Asked if he would vote yes on a procedural vote if the bill text wasn't ready, Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah and a member of the bipartisan talks, said it would be a "dereliction of duty" to advance a bill that had not been written.
"We are certainly not going to vote on a bill that hasn't been drafted yet," Romney said.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune cautioned that Senate Democrats' plan to have a test on a still not-finalized bipartisan infrastructure deal could be "counterproductive" and turn off GOP senators who otherwise might support the measure.
"I see it as an artificial deadline. Our members are not likely to vote to proceed to something they haven't seen," the South Dakotan said. "I understand he wants to drive the process forward but it could be counterproductive on his end if he actually wants a result."
Portman also echoed that message on Sunday, telling CNN "we don't have a product yet."
Pelosi's Dems grit their teeth amid Senate infrastructure drama
“We’re not a cheap date,” quipped House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern. "The House is going to do what we have to do.” Those cross-Capitol tensions boiled over on Monday with House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) ripping into the Senate talks during a private call. DeFazio, who is enraged that the bipartisan negotiators seem to be largely ignoring the infrastructure bill he shepherded through the House earlier this year, even said he hoped the Senate talks fell apart. He wasn’t alone. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.
"And we won't have a product until we can finish the negotiations properly," he said. "Again, this is a complex bill -- it involves several committees, it involves, you know, a lot of very tough issues because we've got to resolve them between us first, so again we're meeting today. ... We're moving as fast as we can."
The other obstacle is that the entity that decides how much legislation will affect the country's bottom line still hasn't weighed in. The Congressional Budget Office score is seen as a critical factor for Republican members who have yet to weigh in. Without a favorable score or with one that is estimated to add substantially to the country's debt, Republicans argue they may not be able to back the bipartisan deal.
Thune said GOP thinking might change if a deal is quickly reached and Congressional Budget Office scoring is made available ahead of the Wednesday vote, but in the meantime there's going to be "real concern trying to proceed to a bill that nobody's seen."
Schumer brushed aside concerns and projected confidence on Thursday, saying, "I've talked to some of our Democratic members of the bipartisan group, they're making very good progress, there's no reason why we can't start voting next Wednesday, and that's what we're going to do."
But the resistance among Republicans signals potential peril for the bipartisan effort and underscores the fragility of the negotiations.
Reconciliation push will test Democratic unity
At the same time, to advance other significant elements of Biden's infrastructure agenda, Senate Democrats must unite behind a budget deal in order to push ahead with a Democrats-only bill that includes priorities left out of the bipartisan deal. The bill they are eyeing would include everything from immigration to health care expansion to tax increases for Americans making more than $400,000 annually.
Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag
Tempers are starting to flare on both sides of the aisle as bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on and negotiators face the prospect of missing an informal self-imposed deadline of Monday for getting a deal.Some Democrats are accusing Republicans of slow-walking the negotiations and reopening negotiating items that were believed to be solved.Republicans say Democrats are being unreasonable in some of their demands, such as an insistence on tens of billions of dollars in new funding for transit and broad authority for local governments to decide how to spend infrastructure funds.
Democrats on the Budget Committeethat they had struck an agreement on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would be a first step toward unlocking their ability to pass their own infrastructure bill later this year.
There have already been some promising signs that lawmakers from different ends of the ideological spectrum will get behind the plan.
Budget Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who originally pushed for a much broader package with a goal of spending as much as $6 trillion, endorsed the plan Tuesday night calling it a "big deal."
Moderate Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who played a key role in the budget negotiation, joined Sanders in endorsing the plan.
"I've done this job for about 12 years. I can't think of a more meaningful effort that we're taking on, than what we're doing right now," Warner said.
It's not yet clear, however, if all 50 Senate Democrats will ultimately support the package.
Manchin, who hails from coal-producing West Virginia,over climate change-related provisions that progressives have pushed for.
"I know they have the climate portion in here, and I'm concerned about that," Manchin said moments after Biden met with Senate Democrats in the Capitol on Wednesday.
The West Virginia Democrat wouldn't say though if the climate provisions would be a dealbreaker for him. "I think reasonable people, if you show them the facts, and you agree that these are the facts, you'll make the adjustments accordingly, and that's what I'm hopeful for," he said, adding, "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure the United States of America remains energy independent."
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and swing vote, said of the $3.5 trillion price tag: "That's a big amount." He made clear, however, he is open to it depending on what's in it and how it's paid for. Asked if he was ruling it out, he told CNN, "Absolutely not."
"That's a big amount," Tester said. "Yeah, I think we just got to figure out how it's being spent, and how it's being applied, figure out how it's going to be paid for, and then make the assessment."
Senate negotiators move to finalize details of infrastructure deal .
A Democratic source close to the talks said Democratic senators and White House officials made a "global offer" to GOP negotiators Sunday.The group of senators involved in the talks are still negotiating several disputed items, including money for highways and bridges, water infrastructure, transit, broadband and using unspent COVID-19 pandemic relief money to pay for the infrastructure measure, according to the Democratic source. Also outstanding is a requirement that contractors and subcontractors working on federally funded contracts pay their workers no less than the "locally prevailing wages" for work on similar projects, the source said.