(Headline USA) Senate Democrats were beginning to apply pressure to move a massive pair of big-spending ‘infrastructure‘ bills out off committee and onto the floor.
Republicans countered, however, that the way to pay for the bills—and their final price tag—was nowhere near settled, and that forcing a vote now could force them to exercise their one check on Democrat power: the filibuster.
“We’re not going to vote to proceed to a bill that doesn’t exist yet,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Tuesday.
A bipartisan ‘deal’ senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial Wednesday test vote as senators struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.
But almost immediately after a group of RINOs and Senate moderates gleefully announced the bargain, the Biden administration sent signals that it might welsh on the bad-faith agreement if a parallel “human infrastructure” package were not included.
As a result of the Democrats’ refusal to come to the table in any genuine compromise, Republicans were prepared on Tuesday to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process.
With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his massive spending spree—including some $3.5 trillion in a follow up bill—restless Democrats say it’s time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.
“It is not a fish or cut bait moment,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., describing the procedural vote as just a first step to ”get the ball rolling” as bipartisan talks proceed.
Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes of overcoming the bipartisan gridlock that has resulted from Democrats’ overreach in several key legislative areas.
White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays—not just for roads and bridges, but a slew of brand-new entitlement programs including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.
Calling it a “blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back,” the 78-year-old president falsely asserted Tuesday that Americans were overwhelmingly in support of his plan and “that’s the part that a lot of our friends on the other team kind of miss.”
The other team begs to differ.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said big spending is “the last thing American families need.”
Republicans are interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects, about $600 billion in new funds, and say they just need more time to negotiate with the White House.
Biden has been in touch with both Democrats and Republicans for several days, and his outreach will continue “until he has both pieces of legislation on his desk to sign them into law,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
While Biden proposes paying for his proposals with a tax hike on corporations, small businesses and individual American families who earn more than $400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has been working almost around the clock to figure out a compromise way to pay for its package.
Already, they have dashed ideas for boosting the gas tax drivers pay at the pump or strengthening the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax scofflaws.
Instead, senators in the bipartisan group are considering rolling back a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates that could bring in some $170 billion to be used for ‘infrastructure.’
Ten Republicans would be needed in the evenly split Senate to join all 50 Democrats in reaching the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill past a filibuster to formal consideration.
Republicans are reluctant to open debate as the bipartisan bill remains a work in progress.
At a private lunch meeting Tuesday, McConnell and others urged Republican senators to vote no, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the session.
Some senators want to delay the vote to Monday. “We’re making progress, but we need more time,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the members of the bipartisan group.
By setting the vote now, Schumer is trying to nudge negotiations along, a strategy both parties have used before. If it fails Wednesday he can set another vote to proceed to the bill later.
Many Republicans are wary of moving ahead with the first, relatively slim package, fearing it will pave the way for the broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under backdoor budget rules that only require 51 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been working to keep restless Democrats in her chamber in line, as rank-and-file lawmakers grow impatient with the sluggish Senate pace.
Liberal Democrats, in particular, are eager to make gains on Biden’s priorities—with or without Republicans.
“Time’s a wasting, I want to get this work done,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Tuesday.
Jayapal warned against giving Republicans too much time to negotiate the deal away. “We have all the history in the world to show that this is what Republicans do time and time and time again,” she said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, dismissed the Senate’s bipartisan effort as inadequate. He wants more robust spending on the transportation elements and said, “We want an opportunity to actually negotiate.”
Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said if the bipartisan effort fails in the Senate, Democrats will simply include some of the infrastructure spending in the broader package they are compiling with Biden’s other priorities.
The legislative maneuvering marks a major test of Biden’s ability to deliver on a massive package of economic promises and reforms he made during his campaign.
But his economy remains a ticking time bomb, with inflation reaching its highest level in decades due to the spending proposals—including stimulus surges and unemployment benefits—that already flooded the US economy with new debt.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press