Senate faces pivotal vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal as negotiations continue

Washington — As negotiations on a bipartisan infrastructure framework remain ongoing, the Senate is moving closer to a key vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal reached with the White House and a group of senators, in a week that could be pivotal for President Biden’s economic agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set in motion the steps to hold a procedural vote on the measure Wednesday, pushing Republican and Democratic senators to resolve outstanding issues over the details of the nearly $600 billion plan and how to pay for it.

Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday the upcoming vote was “merely a vehicle to get the whole process started” and “not a final deadline for legislative text.”

“It is not a cynical ploy. It is not a ‘fish or cut bait’ moment,” he said. “It’s not an attempt to jam anyone. It’s only a signal that the Senate is ready to get the processes started.”

But Schumer’s move has rankled some Republicans involved in the talks, who are pushing for the vote to be delayed, especially since legislative text has yet to be released.

“I don’t want us to lose the momentum and just the energy that we’ve built, and I think we’ve done yeoman’s work in getting to the point that we’re at now,” GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters Monday. “But if what we’re trying to do is to succeed, and I would like to think that Senator Schumer would actually like this to succeed, than he will allow us that time to make sure that the language is right, people have an opportunity to actually look at what they might be voting on so that we can get the votes that we need and the support.”

Mr. Biden declared last month a deal had been reached with the bipartisan group of senators on the framework to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, broadband infrastructure and water pipes, but senators and White House aides continue to hammer out the specifics of the plan.

On Sunday, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told CNN’s “State of the Union” a proposed vehicle for financing the bipartisan infrastructure deal — ramping up enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service, which would raise more than $100 billion in tax revenue — was no longer on the table because there was “pushback.”

Portman also said Republicans learned Democrats want to add a tax enforcement provision into a separate, larger budget reconciliation package that will include many of Mr. Biden’s major economic agenda items on child care, health care, education and climate.

“That created quite a problem,” the Ohio Republican said, “because the general agreement is that this is the bipartisan negotiated infrastructure package and that we will stick with that.”

Still, Schumer stressed Tuesday that this week’s preliminary vote is to begin debating and amending the bipartisan infrastructure framework, “no more, no less.” If the group of Senate negotiators reach agreement on legislative text in the coming days, he said he will proceed with bringing up the deal. But if an agreement fails to materialize, Schumer said the upper chamber will consider individual infrastructure bills that have passed Senate committees with bipartisan support.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, said it’s crucial for he and his fellow Republicans to see the text of the deal.

“I think we need to see the bill before we decide whether or not to vote for it,” he told reporters Monday.

Mr. Biden has continued to push the Senate to move on the bipartisan infrastructure framework, which the White House wants to proceed alongside the broader $3.5 trillion reconciliation package encompassing the president’s other economic policies. The latter measure, though, is expected to pass with only Democratic support, as the procedure Congress is using to take up the sweeping plan allows it to pass the evenly-divided Senate with a simple majority.

During remarks on the economy on Monday, Mr. Biden suggested Republicans should not renege on their support for the package negotiated with his administration, saying, “we shook hands on it.”

“Whatever different views some might have on current price increases, we should be united on one thing: passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework,” the president said.

The White House is deferring to Schumer on the timeline and sequencing of Senate votes, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. But she noted the administration believes “it’s time to move forward with this vote with congressional action,” and on Tuesday told reporters the White House supports Schumer’s efforts to move forward on the infrastructure framework.

Mr. Biden will continue pitching his plans, including with a trip to Ohio on Wednesday and CNN town hall.