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Schumer eyes infrastructure vote, pressuring bipartisan negotiators to agree

It's not clear his gambit will succeed, as Republicans aren't in a hurry and how to pay for the plan remains a major sticking point.
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WASHINGTON — With time running short for Congress to make good on President Joe Biden's economic agenda, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is attempting to force negotiators into a final agreement on infrastructure by next week.

Schumer said Thursday he wanted a crucial procedural vote on the major bipartisan infrastructure deal Wednesday. But it's not clear there will be a bill to vote on by then, irking some Republicans who said they wouldn't support moving forward without a finished product.

The 10 senators running point on the proposal met Thursday afternoon with key White House officials and left for the week without completing the bill, saying they would work remotely over the weekend to try and come to an agreement before the Wednesday deadline set by the New York Democrat.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close ally of Biden, said it will be "a very busy weekend."

Schumer is seeking to play hardball and pressure senators to finish writing the legislation in order to stick to his goal of passing it this month, according to one Democrat close to the process.

Senate Democrats are anxious to finish the infrastructure bill, which calls for $579 billion to build roads, bridges and public transit, and formally begin the $3.5 trillion party-line bill before a scheduled monthlong August recess. They are leery of crashing into fall deadlines to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling, two issues that could be contentious.

Republicans are in less of a hurry.

"There'll be a vote on Wednesday, but I don’t know if there will be a product on Wednesday," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the party's lead negotiator, told reporters. "We're going to get it done. I don't know if we'll make anybody's arbitrary timeline."

He added: "I appreciate the fact that the majority leader wants us to have a vote on this, and to have a vote as soon as possible. I don't disagree with that. But as soon as possible means when it's ready. It's got to be a product that has gone through the proper vetting."

That vetting is being done by an expanded group of 22senators who are combing through both the spending in the bill, and how to pay for the $579 billion in new spending.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said the group is "moving in the right direction" and "getting closer" to a final bill and hashing out some of the "finer details" of how the money is to be spent. But one problem lingers: "We're still short on pay-fors," he said.

One point of contention is a provision that claims revenue from increased IRS enforcement, money that the Congressional Budget Office is not expected to give the group credit for. Republicans are also demanding "guardrails" in the bill on how that extra tax enforcement can be carried out.

Rounds said the fate of that financing mechanism is unclear: "It depends on whether or not we can get to the point of having an agreement on guardrails or not."

If it is removed, the group will need to settle on other revenues or offsets. And it is proving to be a challenging task.

"It's being negotiated," Sen Jon Tester, D-Mont., told reporters, saying the group is looking at alternative ways to pay for the spending.

The meeting Thursday on Capitol Hill was attended by White House officials, including Biden counselor Steve Ricchetti, economic adviser Brian Deese and legislative liaison Louisa Terrell.

“The good news is that we are all still talking. The good news-bad news is we've got a pretty tight time frame,” Sen Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters after the meeting.

She said Schumer's Wednesday target is "pretty aggressive."

"That means we have a lot of work to do, which means that these types of conversations that we just had with our group of 10, plus the White House coming over, are really important," Murkowski said.

In the absence of a final bill, Schumer plans to advance an unrelated vehicle early next week that would overcome the early procedural hurdles and be replaced by the infrastructure legislation once it is finalized. It'll require 60 votes to break a filibuster.

"Well, the bipartisan plan will only be successful if it's paid for without raising taxes and without adding to the debt. And I will only vote for it if we get there," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. "And we're still working on that."