by Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freaking | The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The bipartisan infrastructure senator who brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial test vote on Wednesday as senators struggle to pay nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.
Tensions were rising on Tuesday as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a hasty and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road in support of his big infrastructure ideas – including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill – restless Democrats say it’s time to at least start debating the first phase of their proposals. has gone.
“This is not a fish or cut bait moment,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., calling the procedural vote the first step to “get the ball rolling” as bipartisan talks progress.
Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a crucial moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
White House aides and a bipartisan group of senators have sought to work out the deal privately from Sunday, which will be the first phase of a final $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but Everyday life for the foundation, including childcare, family tax breaks, education and expansion of Medicare for seniors.
Biden calls it a “blue-collar blueprint for building back the US economy.” He stressed Tuesday that the Americans are very much in support of his plan and “that’s the part that a lot of our friends on the other team miss.”
The other team begs to differ.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and some outside groups have called it Biden’s “spending spree,” and McConnell has said big spending is “the last thing American families want.”
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 say they need more time to negotiate with the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden has been in contact with both Democrats and Republicans for several days and will continue to have access until he has both on his desk to sign into law.
While Biden has proposed to pay for his proposals with tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year, the bipartisan group is trying to figure out a compromise way to pay for his package. Working hours, for which ideas have been dashed. Promote the payment of gas tax drivers at the pump or strengthen the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax scoffles.
Instead, senators in the bipartisan group are considering rolling back a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical exemptions, which could bring in nearly $170 billion to be used for infrastructure.
An evenly divided Senate would require 10 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats, reaching the 60-vote threshold needed to push the bill past a filibuster for formal consideration.
Republicans are reluctant to open debate because the bipartisan bill is still a work in progress.
In a private lunch meeting on Tuesday, McConnell and others urged Republican senators not to vote to discuss the session, according to a person who did not wish to be named.
“We’re not going to vote to move forward on a bill that doesn’t exist yet,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said later.
Some senators want to delay the vote on Monday. “We’re making progress, but we need more time,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Main, one of the members of the bipartisan group.
By setting up the vote now, Schumer is trying to move the conversation forward, a tactic both sides have used before. If it fails on Wednesday he could set up another vote to move forward on the bill later.
Many Republicans are wary of going ahead with the first, relatively thin package, fearing it will pave the way for a broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under special budget rules that only 51 votes are required. Vice President Kamala Harris may break a tie.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working to keep restless Democrats in her chamber, as rank-and-file lawmakers grow impatient with the sluggish Senate pace.
Liberal Democrats, in particular, are eager to make a profit on Biden’s priorities — with or without Republicans.
“Time is running out, I want to do this work,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash, chair of the Congress Progressive Caucus, told reporters on Tuesday.
Jayapal warned against giving Republicans too much time to negotiate the deal. “We have all the history in the world to show that this is what Republicans do over and over again,” she said.
Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., 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 really want the opportunity to negotiate.”
Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that if the bipartisan effort in the Senate fails, Democrats will simply add some infrastructure spending to the broader package they are compiling along with Biden’s other priorities.
Democrats expect to show progress on that bill before lawmakers leave Washington for their recess in August.
The legislative maneuver is a major test of Biden’s ability to deliver on the massive package of economic promises and reforms made during his campaign.
Biden is making the case that America needs to make up for lost time with new federal outlays to shore up its outdated infrastructure and a shifting economy and families struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economy has revived as more Americans are vaccinated and Biden’s earlier $1.9 trillion relief package enters the country. Employers have added an average of about 543,000 jobs a month since January, with Federal Reserve officials forecasting overall economic growth of about 7% this year, the highest since 1984. Yet there is also uncertainty as employers say they are struggling to find. Workers still short on current wage levels and inflation concerns.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Josh Bock contributed to this report.