Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package fails a test vote in the Senate

  • By Barbara Sprunt/NPR

(Washington) — Senate Democrats fell short in their efforts to begin debate Wednesday on a bill that would act as the vehicle for President Biden’s infrastructure package.

Sixty votes were needed to take up the measure, but just 49 senators approved moving forward.

The vote on the roughly $1 trillion package came nearly a month after Biden appeared outside the White House with a bipartisan group of senators to announce an agreement on a framework for an infrastructure plan. The measure is targeted at traditional infrastructure investments such as roads, bridges, water systems and an expansion of broadband internet.

Despite bipartisan buy-in, finalizing the legislative text, and in particular how the plan would be paid for, has presented roadblocks. Republicans have repeatedly said they can’t support voting to advance a bill that isn’t yet fully written.

“I think we need to see the bill before we decide whether or not to vote for it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Capitol Hill reporters on Monday.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insisted Wednesday’s vote did not represent a “fish or cut bait moment” and was not an “attempt to jam anyone.”

“A ‘yes’ vote [Wednesday] is simply that the Senate is ready to begin debating a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” he said Tuesday during a Senate Democratic leadership news conference. “No more, no less. We’ve waited a month – it’s time to move forward.”

Schumer added that a vote against debate is “denying the Senate an opportunity to consider the bipartisan infrastructure framework.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who is part of that bipartisan group, said the deadline didn’t give the group enough time to finalize the details. He told reporters Tuesday that the group had asked Schumer to delay the cloture vote until next Monday.

“Until we’ve ironed out all of the remaining issues, Wednesday is premature,” Romney said, “but I think Monday would be sufficient time for us to get all the remaining issues solved, and socialize the legislation with our colleagues so they know how they want to vote.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also part of the group, echoed the call for Schumer to postpone the vote until next week.

“There’s absolutely no reason why he has to have the vote [Wednesday],” she said Tuesday. “It does not advance the ball. It does not achieve any goal except to alienate people. So if he’s sincere about wanting a bipartisan infrastructure bill, then the right move for him to do is to delay the vote just until Monday.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration supported Schumer’s decision to hold the vote Wednesday, noting it was procedural and not a vote on the final bill.

“There’s nothing abnormal about holding a vote on a vehicle to allow consideration at this point,” she said during her press briefing Tuesday.

Even though the procedural vote failed on Wednesday, there is no indication Republicans will walk away from the negotiating table. The talks are expected to continue, and Schumer could bring the bipartisan measure back up for another vote once a deal is finalized.

Wednesday’s vote came as Schumer and Senate Democrats are moving ahead on a separate “human infrastructure” package with a price tag of $3.5 trillion that they plan to advance without GOP support. Schumer has set a separate Wednesday deadline for an internal agreement among all 50 Senate Democrats that they will vote to move forward with a budget resolution in the coming weeks.

NPR’s Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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