GOP blocks infrastructure bill for now

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked Democrats’ attempt to start formal debate on a bipartisan infrastructure plan, arguing that Democrats are rushing the procedural vote before the final bill has been written.

The Senate voted 49-51, failing to reach the 60 votes needed to proceed.

But the move may only amount to a short delay for President Biden’s infrastructure plan, as at least 10 Republicans said they would support the vote if it came up again on Monday, when they expect to have an agreement on the final details of the bill. Talks are expected to continue in the days to come.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) forced the vote as a means of speeding up negotiations, which have dragged on since a tentative agreement was reached between Biden and a bipartisan group of senators nearly a month ago.

“Today we’re not going to be able to support moving forward,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Wednesday morning on CNBC. “We just want time to get it right. It’s too important for us to rush a vote for an arbitrary deadline.”

Negotiations appear to be moving ahead, even if not as fast as Schumer would like. By Wednesday afternoon, Portman said 11 Republicans gave Schumer their commitment, in the form of a letter, to support a final deal when it is ready.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a centrist who has been a leader in the negotiations, expressed confidence the group was nearing an agreement that would get support.

“I feel very good about where we are and where we’re headed,” he said.

Twenty-two senators working on the bill — 10 Republicans and 12 Democrats — released a statement designed to arouse confidence that the bill would be finalized and approved in the coming days.

“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” they said. “We will continue working hard to ensure we get this critical legislation right — and are optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal to strengthen America’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs in the coming days.”

Wednesday’s vote fell along party lines. Schumer supports the measure, but found himself obligated to vote against moving forward Wednesday because of arcane Senate rules. By voting no, it is easier for him to call up a repeat vote.

If Democrats do succeed on Monday, the vote will mark the start of formal Senate consideration of the first piece of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, an ambitious, $4.1-trillion infrastructure proposal that would build roads, water pipes and broadband internet networks as well as reshape the nation’s safety net.

Democrats are trying to enact the plan in two parts. The bipartisan plan, which amounts to $579 billion in new spending and nearly $1.2 trillion overall, would invest in the so-called hard infrastructure projects.

The rest of Biden’s plan, about $3.5 trillion, would be approved under a separate special procedure that doesn’t allow for a Republican filibuster.

That portion of the plan includes an ambitious list of new and expanded social programs, such as child and elder care and enhanced Medicare benefits. Because Republicans oppose that plan, Democrats will need to rely solely on their own caucus for the votes.

Schumer’s attempt to speed things up has rubbed Republicans the wrong way, with several GOP negotiators saying it was not right to hold a vote on a bill that didn’t yet exist.

But Schumer is leery of letting the infrastructure deal simmer all summer. “They’ve been working on this bipartisan framework for more than a month already,” he said Tuesday, “and it’s time to begin the debate.”

The bipartisan group and White House aides have been huddling on Capitol Hill and in Zoom meetings in recent weeks to flesh out the details of the plan. One method of paying for about $100 billion worth of the bill — asking the IRS to raise money by better enforcing tax laws — was scrapped amid GOP opposition.

Biden, for his part, was headed Wednesday afternoon to Portman’s home state of Ohio to talk about the infrastructure plan at a town hall.

“The president will make his case Wednesday evening in a CNN town hall, arguing for both the bipartisan proposal and a companion bill, which is also still unwritten, that Democrats seek to pass on their own to expand the safety net for working families,” White House spokewoman Jen Psaki said.

He is likely to tout a new report from Moody’s Analytics that White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and other administration officials have circulated widely on social media .

The report predicts that the two infrastructure proposals would strengthen long-term economic growth and ease inflation rather than increase it.

Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.

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