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Democrats plow ahead with party-line spending bill for Biden's economic priorities

Senators express optimism but are facing a time crunch because of the approaching August recess, when they leave Washington.
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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are hurrying to finalize a massive infrastructure spending bill that can pass on party lines and approve spending for a series of President Joe Biden's priorities that weren't included in a deal struck with Republicans.

And they sounded optimistic about passing both the bipartisan and partisan measures.

"I have not been this optimistic in many, many months," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, a member of his party's leadership team, told NBC News. "We're going to do this."

Lawmakers worked late into the night on Monday and continued to work on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that he planned to hold votes on the infrastructure deal with Republicans, as well as the budget to begin advancing the separate multitrillion-dollar package, before leaving town for a month in August.

"The unity in our caucus — that we all know that the worst outcome for the American people is for us to do nothing," Schumer said. "I think every Democratic senator understands that."

The Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are negotiating a bill that could pass through the arcane budget reconciliation process that only requires 50 votes to pass. This means they could pass it without any GOP support if every Democrat is on board.

Senators would not divulge any of the details of the discussions. They have also refused to say how much money they expect the bill will spend.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Budget Committee, said Monday they had a “really good discussion” and “there is widespread agreement that we are going to pass the most consequential piece of legislation for working families in the modern history of this country.”

Earlier in the day, Sanders met with President Joe Biden at the White House and told reporters afterward, “So I think we are on the same page.”

Sanders said Tuesday afternoon after a Democratic meeting that he is “confident that we will” pass the infrastructure and safety net plans.

Senators admitted Monday that they are facing a time crunch because of the August recess.

“We're facing a shortage of time,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan group of Senators who reached an agreement with Biden is still working to churn out the text of their bill.

Schumer said Tuesday that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., one of the leaders of the separate bipartisan talks, is "optimistic" about finishing writing the legislation by the end of this week.

But No. 2 Republican Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, said that sounds like a stretch.

"I just think that it’s a very fluid process — but one that I find hard to believe could be concluded by the end of the week," he told reporters.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, another leader in the bipartisan group, said 22 senators will meet Tuesday, and that "probably about half the bill is written."

He added that Republicans can split their votes.

"They can vote no on reconciliation; yes on this, the infrastructure bill," Portman said.

One looming obstacle is the score from the Congressional Budget Office, which will test whether the financing proposals sufficiently pay for the cost of the $579 billion infrastructure bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., held his cards close to the vest on Tuesday when asked about funding measures like stricter IRS enforcement of tax collection, about which some conservative anti-spending groups have raised concerns.

"I'm among those who are observing what's going on, hoping that somehow we may find a way forward," he told reporters. "So at this point I don't think I want to comment on any of the particular provisions of it."

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., a McConnell ally who's in touch with the bipartisan group, said senators are working to craft language on how the IRS can use that money to prevent targeting of certain groups. He said that'll be important to getting enough support to pass the bill.

Schumer warned Monday that senators should prepare to work nights and weekends.

“Members should prepare for a busier work period than usual, with the possibility of late night votes, weekend votes, and changes to the August schedule,” he said.