Chuck Schumer is playing hardball. The Senate majority leader on Thursday said the Senate will vote to begin debate on the bipartisan infrastructure package on Wednesday, setting a deadline for the legislation even as negotiators continue to haggle over key details and the text of the bill has yet to be finalized.
Schumer’s Wednesday deadline also applies to Democrat’s push to finalize a $3.5 trillion budget resolution setting the parameters for a go-it-alone package of “human infrastructure” spending, the other major portion of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. "I am setting the same deadline next Wednesday for the entire Senate Democratic Caucus to agree to move forward on the budget resolution with reconciliation instructions. The time has come to make progress," Schumer said.
Senators behind the bipartisan deal calling for $579 billion in new infrastructure spending continue to work to resolve their differences, but Schumer’s move ramps up the pressure on them — and on Democrats working to reach unity on their own budget blueprint.
“I’ve talked to some of our Democratic members of the bipartisan group. They’re making very good progress. There’s no reason why we can’t start voting next Wednesday, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Schumer told reporters.
The Senate could start debate before final text of the bill is ready and then swap in the bipartisan agreement once it’s done. But key details of the deal remain up in the air, and Republican members of the bipartisan negotiating group have warned that they may not vote to proceed if those details aren’t buttoned up by Wednesday.
“I think there’s a lot of drafting that has to be done and there are still a number of outstanding issues that have to be resolved,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), one of the lawmakers negotiating the bipartisan deal. “And I think we’ll, we’ll move quickly but we’re not going to vote on something until we actually have a bill.”
Some Republicans called Schumer’s deadline artificial and arbitrary, expressing frustration that the Democratic leader was looking to jam them as the delicate talks continue. “Several Senate Republicans read Schumer’s Wednesday vote as an effort to sink the bipartisan talks, given the absence of legislative text and the likelihood that members will not yet have a score from the Congressional Budget Office by Wednesday,” Politico reports, adding that Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked “whether Sen. Schumer is just setting this all up to fail so he can then move to the budget. That may part of his Machiavellian scheme.”
IRS funding in question: The bipartisan package calls for increased funding for IRS enforcement, a provision that negotiators said could raise $100 billion in revenue from unpaid taxes. But the added funding for the tax agency raised objections among some Republicans and now appears likely to be removed from the package, or shifted to the Democratic bill, setting negotiators scrambling to find alternate funding options.
What’s next: The Senate is done for the week, but members of the bipartisan negotiating group said they would work through the weekend. Negotiators reportedly also still need to resolve details on the spending side of the deal, including provisions related to water infrastructure and broadband. Even with Schumer’s deadline meant to speed up the process, both pieces of legislation are likely to still face a long road ahead.