Schumer defends tight infrastructure deadline as GOP threatens to tank key vote

Key Points
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected Republican calls to slow down the process of moving a bipartisan infrastructure plan through his chamber.
  • Schumer argued that an upcoming procedural vote to move forward with the bill is merely a starting point and not a final deadline.
  • Republicans are insisting the bipartisan group of senators who have been crafting the bill be given the time to finalize it, given that major issues still need to be ironed out.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer(R) (D-NY)speaks to the media during a weekly news briefing on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday rejected Republican calls to slow down the process of moving a bipartisan infrastructure plan through his chamber.

Instead, the New York Democrat heaped more pressure on senators to reach a final agreement on the legislation and said he had no plans to delay Wednesday's up or down vote to proceed with debate on the plan.

Schumer argued that the procedural vote Wednesday to advance a House transportation bill that will comprise part of the ultimate infrastructure package was not a final deadline to finish the harder pieces of legislation but merely a starting point to begin formally debating what the bill should contain.

"It is not a cynical ploy. It is not a fish-or-cut-bait moment. It is not an attempt to jam anyone," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

"It's only a signal that the Senate is ready to get the process started — something the Senate has routinely done on other bipartisan bills this year," the majority leader said.

Once the shell bill is approved, Schumer said, he would insert the bipartisan infrastructure language into it on Thursday if a deal has been reached by then.

If a deal is not reached by Thursday, but the shell bill ends up passing the 60-vote threshold, Schumer said he would insert language from several smaller bills that have already been approved either by Senate committees or by the full Senate: A water bill, a highway bill, a rail and transit bill, and an energy bill.

Schumer filed the original motion to proceed with the House bill on Monday evening, he said, with the intention of swapping in the text of the Senate infrastructure legislation once it is written.

The vote Wednesday will simply initiate a debate that Schumer said could take several more weeks — "No more, no less."

"We've waited a month. It's time to move forward," he said, referring to the June 24 announcement at the White House by President Joe Biden that the group of nearly two dozen bipartisan senators had struck a deal.

Schumer needs at least 10 Republican votes to pass the motion Wednesday. If that vote fails, Republicans would "be denying the Senate an opportunity to consider the bipartisan amendment," Schumer said.

"In order to finish the bill, we first need to agree to start," he said.

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Yet even as Schumer played down the significance of Wednesday's vote, Republican opposition to moving forward with the bill has been hardening in recent days.

As soon as news emerged of Schumer's plan, Republicans negotiating the infrastructure package cried foul and demanded more time to finish the web of funding sources to pay for a proposed $579 billion in new infrastructure investments.

"We can't support cloture for something we haven't accomplished yet," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the lead Republican negotiator, said Monday evening. "It is absurd to move forward with a vote on something that's not yet formulated."

"It makes no sense to try to rush into a cloture vote," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

"If the majority leader would just agree to delay the vote until very early next week, make it the first vote on Monday, then I think we could have language to show our colleagues, and be able to move forward," Collins said.

The sticking points over the bill's "pay-fors" came as a nonpartisan policy organization warned that the budget resolution proposal, which Democrats hope they can pass through the Senate on a party-line vote, could actually cost significantly more than the $3.5 trillion advertised.

The nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, citing a fact sheet on the budget proposal, said Monday that its true cost could exceed $5 trillion over a decade.

Some Republicans are accusing Schumer of forcing a vote on Wednesday that he knows will fail, in order to hold it up as evidence that Republicans are just stalling on the infrastructure bill and will never agree to pass it.

Schumer "wants this vote to fail, because he really wants to go the partisan route," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Cornyn predicted that once the infrastructure bill failed, Democrats would use that as an opening to pass a laundry list of progressive agenda items in a budget bill on a straight party-line vote.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have also criticized the infrastructure talks.

The "whole thing falling apart is probably the best thing," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Monday in a private call with other Democrats, three sources on the call told Politico.

A spokesperson for DeFazio did not immediately provide comment on the report.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.