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Infrastructure bill fails first vote; Senate to try again


WASHINGTON: Senate Republicans rejected an effort Wednesday to begin debate on a large infrastructure deal that a bipartisan group of senators negotiated with President Joe Biden. But supporters from both parties hoped for another chance in the coming days.
Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York had scheduled the procedural vote that he described as a step to “get the ball rolling” as the talks progress. But Republicans mounted a filibuster, saying the bipartisan group needed more time to close the deal and review the details. They looked for a delay until Monday.
The party line vote was 51-49 against proceeding, well below the 60 “yes” votes needed to overcome the Republican bloc. The Democratic leader changed his vote to “no” at the end, a procedural step that would allow him to move on to reconsider.
The nearly $ 1 trillion over five-year measure includes about $ 579 billion in new spending on highways, broadband and other public works projects, a first phase of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, followed by a second, much more. $ 3.5 trillion from Democrats next month.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a lead negotiator, showed a thumbs up as he ducked at a private lunch before the vote, indicating that the senators had sent Schumer a letter asking for more time. “We will be ready by the end of this week,” he said during an interview with CNBC.
Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign pledge stands at a pivotal moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
Biden, who headed to Ohio later Wednesday to promote his economic policies, is calling his infrastructure agenda a “blue collar model for rebuilding an American economy.” He has said that the Americans overwhelmingly support his plan.
However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell Kentucky has said that big spending is “the last thing American families need.”
White House Aides and the bipartisan group of senators have met privately every day since Sunday to try to close the deal, which would be the first phase of an eventual package of more than $ 4 trillion of domestic outlays, not just for roads and bridges , but also for foundations of daily life. life, including childcare, family tax breaks, education, and an expansion of State health insurance For seniors.
Next steps are uncertain, but the bipartisan group insists it is close to a deal and hopes to finish soon. Senators met for a private lunch before the vote with the two leaders of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that generally supports the effort.
Senators on the Republican side asked to delay the vote, and 11 Republicans signed a letter to Schumer saying they would support moving forward with an affirmative vote on Monday, if certain details about the package are ready.
Schumer said the senators are in the fourth week of negotiations after reaching an agreement on a comprehensive framework for infrastructure spending with the White House. He said Wednesday’s vote was not meant to be a deadline for all the details to be worked out.
“My colleagues are well aware that we often agree to go ahead with topic discussions before we have the text in hand,” said Schumer. “We have already done it twice this year.”
McConnell called the vote a “stunt” that would fail, but stressed that senators “are still negotiating in good faith across the aisle.”
“Around here, we usually write bills before we vote on them,” he said.
A core group of Republicans are interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects – about $ 600 billion in new funding – and they say they just need more time to negotiate with their fellow Democrats and the White House.
Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana was one of the Republicans who signed the letter calling for the postponement and said he was “cautiously optimistic” that they can reach a bipartisan agreement.
Senators from the bipartisan group came out optimistic Tuesday from another late-night negotiating session with Biden’s aides on Capitol Hill, saying a deal was within their grasp and that a failed vote on Wednesday would not be the end of the road.
In fact, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said Wednesday’s test vote could be helpful in helping “move forward and accelerate” the process.
“We are very close,” said Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana.
Biden has been in contact with both Democrats and Republicans for several days, and his outreach will continue “until you have both laws on your desk to make into law,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
While Biden is proposing to pay for his proposals with a tax increase on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $ 400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has been working nearly twenty-four hours a day to find a compromise way to pay for their package. , having thwarted ideas to increase the gas tax paid by drivers at the pump or to strengthen the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax criminals.
Instead, senators from the bipartisan group are considering reversing a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates that could bring in about $ 170 billion to be used for infrastructure. They also continue to haggle for public transportation funds.
It would have taken ten Republicans in the evenly split Senate to join the 50 Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill beyond filibuster to formal consideration. Schumer may set another vote to proceed to the bill later.
Many Republicans are wary of going ahead with the relatively thin first package, fearing it will pave the way for the broader $ 3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under special budget rules that only require 51 votes. . Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been working to keep uneasy Liberal Democrats in her chamber at bay, as grassroots lawmakers grow impatient with the slow pace of the Senate.
“It’s a waste of time, I want to do this job,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Wash. Democrat, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, dismissed the Senate’s bipartisan effort as inappropriate. He wants stronger spending on transportation items and said, “We want an opportunity to really negotiate.”
Democrats hope to show progress on that bill before lawmakers leave Washington for recess in August.

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