Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is barreling toward a vote set for Wednesday on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, despite lawmakers having not finished writing the proposal.
The New York Democrat scheduled the vote on a legislative shell, saying they would add in later the details of the infrastructure spending and how to pay for it.
“The Senate Democrats are keeping our foot on the gas pedal,” said Mr. Schumer. “For weeks, I have said we have a busy summer with a long to-do list … and I know both sides are working very hard to turn the bipartisan infrastructure framework into final legislation.”
The frenetic pace underscored the short time lawmakers have to finish the bill before leaving Washington for a month-long vacation in August.
Republicans argued that it was unfair to push for a vote when bipartisan negotiators have yet to finalize a deal. Such opposition could be fatal in a vote that requires the support of at least 10 Republicans for the legislation to survive.
At least four Republicans, including two central to crafting the deal, are signaling they will vote against the motion to start the debate if the package is not finished.
“There’s absolutely no reason why he asked to have the vote tomorrow, and it does not advance the ball,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican at the forefront of the talks. “It does not achieve any goal except to alienate people.”
Still, lawmakers planned to work into the night Tuesday to find agreement on how to fund the road, bridge, railway and airport projects without raising taxes. The task has proved insurmountable.
A bipartisan group of senators proposed more than $570 billion in new spending on top of roughly $600 billion of repurposed coronavirus relief funds.
Although negotiators appear to be closing in on a final compromise, most are pushing Mr. Schumer to delay the vote until at least Monday.
“I feel better today than I did last night,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat involved in the negotiations. “We’ve resolved a number of items … [Now,] we’ve just got to select options and we’ve found a good selection of options on all those issues.”
Even if a deal were to be finalized by Wednesday, it is unclear if it will garner enough support to overcome a filibuster. Senators say they are uneasy about voting to advance a roughly $1 trillion package without adequate time to read and study it.
“I think there’s a unanimous point of view that we shouldn’t vote on a motion to proceed until people know what the summary is of the bill,” said GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, one of the bipartisan negotiators. “They haven’t seen the numbers, they haven’t seen the pay-fors. A small group of us has, but the overall group hasn’t, and until we do, until we’ve ironed out the remaining issues, Wednesday is premature.”
Mr. Schumer insisted that pushing for a vote even before the legislation is finalized is a “routine Senate process.”
“All a yes vote on the motion to proceed means is simply that the senate is ready to begin debating a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” he said. “No more, no less.”
The majority leader’s allies noted that Congress has long pursued such strategies to ensure it can pass legislation on time.
Complicating matters for both Mr. Schumer and the bipartisan group is that leaving Washington without an initial vote is likely the death of the deal.
Democrats fear that sending Republicans home for a month without voting for the package will bleed away potential supporters. Vulnerable Republicans likely will be pressured at home to oppose the deal by constituents, advocacy groups and the conservative grassroots.
What’s more, Mr. Schumer is attempting to move the traditional infrastructure bill in tandem with a $3.5 trillion package of social welfare spending. The bigger bill, which is packed with liberal priorities, is set to pass without Republican votes in a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the 60-vote threshold and pass with 51 votes.
Given the two packages are linked, many fear that opposition drummed up against one will bleed into the other.
Regardless, time is not on the side of Democrats if a vote does not happen before recess.
When Congress returns from its month-long break, it must pass the annual spending bills needed to keep the government running past a Sept. 30 deadline. Allowing infrastructure to get bogged down with such vital legislation all but ensures its defeat.