Schumer Vows Passage of Infrastructure Bill 'Easy Way or Hard Way'
Senators were laboring Sunday toward eventual passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, resigned to stay as long as it takes to overcome Republican holdouts who want to drag out final votes on one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities.
The bill has won widespread support from senators across the aisle and promises to unleash billions of dollars to upgrade roads, bridges, broadband internet, water pipes and other public works systems undergirding the nation. But a single Republican senator's protest halted swift passage, forcing the Senate into long day and night sessions toward final votes early Tuesday.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stressed to colleagues that they could proceed the “easy way or the hard way,” as the Senate slogged through its second consecutive weekend session.
“We’ll keep proceeding until we get this bill done," Schumer said.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would provide what Biden has called a “historic investment” in public works programs, the first part of the president's his rebuilding agenda. Once voting wraps up, senators immediately will turn to the budget outline for a $3.5 trillion package of child care, elder care and other programs that is a much more partisan undertaking and expected to draw only Democratic support.
As many as 20 Republicans are expected to join Democrats in what would be a big a vote on final passage. Overcoming a 60-vote hurdle Saturday with backing from 18 Republicans was a sign that the bipartisan tenuous alliance could hold on the public works package.
Another procedural vote was expected late Sunday, as senators push toward Tuesday's final passage. If approved, the bill would go to the House.
“We’re on the cusp of seeing that move through the Senate,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, citing “a remarkable coalition” that includes business, labor and lawmakers from both parties. “I think we’re about to get this done.”
Despite the momentum, action ground to a halt over the weekend when Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., an ally of Donald Trump, forced the Senate to run out the clock on debate time, refusing to consent to speeding up the process.
Hagerty, who had been Trump's ambassador to Japan, was leading the effort to take as much time as needed to debate and amend the bipartisan bill, in part because he wants to slow the march toward Biden's next big bill, which plans $3.5 trillion for child care, an expansion of Medicare for seniors and other so-called soft infrastructure needs.
Hagerty said Sunday he was trying to prevent a “socialist debt bomb” of new government spending.
Hagerty’s office said he had not spoken to Trump. But the former president has been publicly critical of the bill and criticizing Biden and the senators from both parties who support it, though it’s unclear whether Trump's broadsides will have much sway with Republican senators.
Schumer has vowed to keep lawmakers in session, saying the Senate won't recess for August until progress is made on both bills.
As the standoff dragged on, Republicans who helped negotiate the compromise spoke up Sunday commending Trump for having sparked infrastructure talks when he was in the White House even if those bills never panned out.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, said it's time overdue to improve the nation's public works systems.
“The American people deserve to have good roads and bridges and infrastructure to drive on, travel on,” he said.
Another negotiator, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, acknowledged that no compromise is perfect, but doing nothing when there was a bill before them was not an option.
“Every president in the modern era has proposed an infrastructure package,” he said. “This was an effort to say let’s break the logjam.”
Biden, who was spending the weekend in Delaware, said the bipartisan package offers an investment on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.
Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments to the 2,700-page package, but so far none has substantially changed its framework.
More amendments could be debated as senators consider revisions to a section on cryptocurrency, a long-shot effort by defense hawks to add $50 billion for defense-related infrastructure and a bipartisan amendment to repurpose a portion of the untapped COVID-19 relief aid that had been sent to the states.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has so far allowed the bill to progress, despite the name-calling coming from the former president. “This is a compromise,” McConnell said Saturday.
Senators have found much to like in the bill, even though it does not fully satisfy liberals, who view it as too small, or conservatives, who find it too large. It would provide federal money for projects many states and cities could not afford on their own.
An analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office drew concerns, particularly from Republicans. It concluded that the legislation would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade.
But the bill's backers argued that the budget office was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth. Additional analysis released Saturday by the budget office suggested infrastructure spending overall could boost productivity and lower the ultimate costs.
Paying for the package has been a pressure point throughout the months of negotiations after Democrats objected to an increase in the gas tax paid at the pump and Republicans resisted a plan to bolster the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.
Unlike Biden's bigger $3.5 trillion package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is funded by repurposing other money, including untapped COVID-19 aid, and other spending cuts and revenue streams.
The House is in recess and is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns in September.
Cassidy spoke on CNN's “State of the Union” and Buttigieg on “Fox News Sunday.”