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

Politics

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 had been reached by then.

If a deal is not been 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.

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 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.

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 Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn 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.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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