Infrastructure advance on rocky ground while important test votes are pending in the Senate

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Washington
CNN

It could all come together or it could all fall apart.

These are the challenges to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda as it faces a critical week in the Senate that could prove to be a pivotal moment for both a bipartisan deal and a broader social safety net expansion package that the Democrats intend to move To vote on a party line.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will hold an important test vote on Wednesday on the bipartisan deal, a schedule that has put pressure on negotiators to conclude an agreement they don’t already have and angered Republicans who argue, Schumer try to undermine their progress. Schumer also calls for Senate Democrats to unite by Wednesday in their support for a budget resolution that would lay the foundation for the later adoption of the Democrats’ broader infrastructure package – and Democrats have not all signed.

Democrats face a very tough bill in trying to keep both efforts on track.

It is not yet clear if and when the negotiators can convert a non-partisan framework into a fully elaborated legal text. Consultants warn that the talks will be productive but tedious, with major sticking points in the financing of the package.

A Democratic adviser told CNN on Sunday that Republicans and Democrats in the bipartisan group agreed to ditch plans to fund the bipartisan deal by prosecuting individuals who had unpaid tax bills with the IRS.

“Well, one reason it’s not part of the proposal is that we had a pushback,” Senator Rob Portman told CNN’s Dana Bash on the State of the Union when he asked for Republican opposition to the idea was asked.

“Another reason is that we found out that the Democrats would bring a proposal into the reconciliation package that was not only similar to what we had but with a lot more enforcement from the IRS,” said the Republican from Ohio.

“That created quite a problem because the general agreement is that this is the infrastructure package negotiated by both parties and that we will stick to it,” added Portman, a lead Republican negotiator in the group, who said he had with the White House co-operated the legislation.

Republicans are also pushing against the looming deadline with a warning to turn GOP senators against the proposal.

“It immediately sends a signal that this is Schumer bill and they are trying to ram something that no one read or rated,” said Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. “Even the people who wrote it can’t even read it.”

GOP Senator Bill Cassidy, who participated in bipartisan negotiations to create the legislative framework, also criticized the procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday, saying:Fox News Sunday“That he would not support it without a finished version of the bill.

“How can I vote for a cloture if the invoice has not been written? Unless you want a programmed mistake, unless Senator Schumer doesn’t want it, you need a little more time to get it right, ”said the Louisiana Republican.

In parallel, Schumer is trying to unite the entire Senate Democratic group to land a $ 3.5 trillion budget deal that some progressives believe does not go far enough and some moderates have voiced concerns.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a key swing vote in the Senate, made it clear he wasn’t there when asked about Schumer’s Wednesday deadline, which saw all 50 Democrats have a budget of $ 3.5 trillion agree.

“It’s a challenge,” said Manchin. “You know I’ll take on a challenge, I’ll work as hard as I can.”

A Senate Democratic adviser told CNN that there is cautious optimism within the group that a bipartisan package and reconciliation law can be implemented, but at the same time said it would not be surprising if the bipartisan deal “went up in flames”. The challenge for reconciliation is that “getting something that is moderate for Manchin but liberal enough for the squad is not an easy task,” said the adviser.

The bipartisan group of senators, who signed an infrastructure framework contract with the White House last month, worked to translate it into law over the weekend, but sticking points remain.

As a result, some Republicans argue it is too early to set a deadline now as it is unclear whether the legislation will even be ready this week.

When asked if he would vote yes to a procedural vote if the bill wasn’t ready, Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah and a member of the bipartisan talks, said it would be a “breach of duty” to propose a bill that it wasn’t written.

“We’re certainly not going to be voting on a bill that hasn’t been drafted,” said Romney.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune warned that the Senate Democrats’ plan to test a pending bipartisan infrastructure contract could be “counterproductive” and knock out GOP senators who might otherwise support the measure.

“I see it as an artificial deadline. Our members are unlikely to vote to move on to something they haven’t seen, “the South Dakotan said. “I understand that he wants to move the process forward, but it could be counterproductive for him if he actually wants a result.”

Portman also repeated the message on Sunday, telling CNN, “We don’t have a product yet”.

“And we won’t have a product until we can properly finalize the negotiations,” he said. “Again, this is a complex bill – it has several committees, it has a lot of very difficult questions because we have to resolve them between us first, so we’ll meet again today. … We move as fast as we can. ”

The other obstacle is that the body that decides how much the legislation affects the country’s bottom line is still negligible. The Congressional Budget Office’s assessment is seen as a critical factor for Republican members who have yet to play a role. Without a positive assessment, Republicans argue that they may not be able to support the bipartisan deal.

Thune said the GOP’s thinking could change if an agreement is reached quickly and the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment is made available ahead of Wednesday’s vote, but in the meantime there will be “real concerns about moving on to a bill, that no one has seen ”.

On Thursday, Schumer brushed aside concerns and exuded confidence, saying, “I’ve spoken to some of our Democratic members of the bipartisan group, they’re making very good progress, there’s no reason we can’t start voting next Wednesday, and.. we will do that.”

But resistance among Republicans signals a potential threat to bipartisan efforts and underscores the fragility of the negotiations.

At the same time, to advance other key elements of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, Senate Democrats must unite behind a budget deal to advance a Democratic-only bill that includes priorities left out of the bipartisan deal. The bill they have in mind would encompass everything from immigration to expanding health care services to raising taxes for Americans who earn more than $ 400,000 annually.

Democrats on the Budgets Committee announced late Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on a $ 3.5 trillion budget decision that would be a first step in unlocking their ability to pass their own infrastructure bill later this year .

There were already some promising signs that lawmakers from different ends of the ideological spectrum will be behind the plan.

Budgets Committee Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent Vermonter who sat down with the Democrats and originally pushed for a much broader package aimed at spending up to $ 6 trillion, backed the plan Tuesday night, calling it a “big deal.” “.

Moderate Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who played a key role in the budget negotiations, helped Sanders endorse the plan.

“I’ve been doing this job for about 12 years. I can’t think of a more meaningful effort than what we’re doing, ”said Warner.

However, it is not yet clear whether all 50 Senate Democrats will ultimately support the package.

Manchin, who hails from coal-producing West Virginia, has previously raised concerns about the climate change regulations that progressives have been pushing for.

“I know they have the climate stake here, and I’m worried about that,” Manchin said shortly after Biden met with Senate Democrats in the Capitol on Wednesday.

However, the West Virginia Democrat wouldn’t say if climate regulations were a deal breaker for him. “I think reasonable people, if you show them the facts and agree that these are the facts, you will make the adjustments accordingly, and I hope so,” he said, adding, “I will do whatever I can to make sure.” that the United States of America will remain energy independent. ”

Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and swing voice, said of the $ 3.5 trillion price tag, “That’s a huge amount.” However, he made it clear that he’s open to it, depending on what’s in it is and how it is paid. When asked if he ruled it out, he told CNN, “Absolutely not.”

“That’s a huge amount,” said Tester. “Yeah, I think we just have to figure out how it’s spent and applied, figure out how it’s paid, and then do the valuation.”

Contributors to this report were Manu Raju, Ali Zaslav, Ted Barrett and Paul LeBlanc of CNN.



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