The Senate on Wednesday blocked a procedural vote to move forward on the bipartisan infrastructure package with all Republicans, including negotiators who are helping to craft the legislation, voting down a bill that remains unfinished.
But the unsuccessful vote isn’t a fatal blow to the nearly finalized legislation. Eleven GOP senators wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday saying that they intend to support another procedural vote on Monday if a deal is reached by then. That number would help them get the 60 votes needed to advance a bill that’s a major priority for the bipartisan group, Democratic leaders and President Joe Biden, as well as the biggest infrastructure investment in years.
Republicans had been threatening to block the motion to proceed – a procedural vote that would open debate – since Schumer scheduled the vote for Wednesday regardless of the trillion-dollar bill’s status. While he wouldn’t back down on the vote, the New York Democrat said he’d give negotiators more time to finalize the legislation and would sub it in through the amendment process if the Senate agreed to support the motion.
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Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes needed to advance the infrastructure package and move to debate. All Democrats voted to adopt the motion but they needed at least 10 Republicans to join them in order to avoid a filibuster. But Schumer credited his hard-line approach for getting the bipartisan group to move more quickly toward a finalized agreement.
“According to the negotiators, spurred on by this vote this afternoon, they are close to finalizing their product,” Schumer said prior to the vote. “Even Republicans have agreed that the deadline has moved them far more quickly. Given the process of the bipartisan negotiations, I believe senators should feel comfortable voting to move forward today.”
While negotiators appear to be wrapping up the bill, Republicans – regardless of their overall support for an infrastructure package brokered by both parties – made it clear they wouldn’t vote on a piece of legislation without seeing the final product.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who hasn’t indicated if he’ll ultimately support the bill, pointed to a similar scenario from last March when Democrats, who were then in the minority, blocked the motion to proceed on a COVID-19 stimulus package due to ongoing negotiations. But he also acknowledged that a failed vote to proceed to debate “does not mean ‘no’ forever.”
“Senate Democrats insisted on taking their time in the middle of this national 100-year pandemic,” McConnell said prior to the infrastructure vote. “Now we’re talking about long-term infrastructure investments that will pay out over many years, but (Schumer) wants to vote before any agreement even exists? So this stunt is set to fail.”
Schumer is expected to call for another motion to proceed but it’s unclear if he’ll go with the suggested timeline from Senate Republicans of early next week. Senate Democrats are aiming to wrap up work on the bipartisan package before lawmakers head home for August recess.
In the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote, negotiators said the bipartisan group is making great progress and has almost tied up all loose ends, including the biggest sticking points over how to pay for half a trillion dollars in new spending for roads, bridges, ports and other physical infrastructure needs including some climate priorities.
They are voicing confidence that they can wrap it all up around the weekend in time for a Monday vote – if one is scheduled. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is one of the Democratic negotiators, told reporters before the vote to expect a statement from the group on Wednesday about the status.
And Republicans are suggesting that there will be at least 10, if not more, senators in their party who will get the infrastructure package across the 60-vote threshold whenever a procedural vote comes to the floor again.
“I presume it’ll all be done by early next week, and we will have another vote, I hope, next week and we’ll be able to proceed to the bill,” said GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. “We have enough Republicans – 10 or 12 or more Republicans – that are supportive of going on the bill.”