Senate Republicans block bipartisan infrastructure plan from advancing, but talks continue

Road work in downtown Lansing | Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats’ attempt to start debate on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan was blocked by Republicans on a party-line vote Wednesday, as lawmakers hustle to wrap up negotiations over drafting that legislation.

In the 49-51 test vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) switched his vote to “no,” a procedural move that allows him to bring the motion again later.

Both of Michigan’s senators, Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), voted yes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Schumer had described the Senate action as intended to move the legislative process forward on approving a sweeping package of funding for road and bridge projects.

“This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out. It is not an attempt to jam anyone,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, adding that “in order to finish the bill, first we need to start.”

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But Republicans balked at advancing to debate over the bill until the bipartisan group finishes drafting plans for funding and other sticking points, such as the amount of money for transit projects. Sixty votes were needed.

“These discussions have yet to conclude. There’s no outcome yet,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), said Wednesday. “No bipartisan agreement, no text, nothing for the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate, and certainly nothing on which to vote.”

The failed vote comes a month after the White House and 10 U.S. senators, led by Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, a Republican, announced they had struck a deal on the outlines of a proposal to spend $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion from new spending.

The key senators involved in the infrastructure talks besides Sinema and Portman have included Republicans Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine; and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Jon Tester of Montana; and Mark Warner of Virginia.

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That agreement was briefly jostled by President Joe Biden’s comments that he would only sign the bill paying for traditional infrastructure projects if Congress also sends him a second bill he’s sought to provide more money for what he calls “human infrastructure,” such as child care and education.

Biden later revised his comments, reasserting his support for the infrastructure deal.

Lawmakers involved in the infrastructure talks continued their closed-door meetings on Wednesday. If that group is able to finish its work, Senate Democrats could hold another vote as soon as next week to advance to debate over the infrastructure measure.

Schumer reiterated on Wednesday that he intends for the Senate to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a second measure containing the president’s other infrastructure priorities, before lawmakers leave for the August recess.

The second measure would be passed through the budget reconciliation process, allowing Democrats to approve it without support from Republicans in the narrowly divided chamber.