WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a vote for Wednesday to begin debate on bipartisan infrastructure legislation, even as Republicans threatened to block the motion unless the agreement is finalized by then.
"They have been working on this bipartisan framework for a month already. It's time to begin the debate," Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday, adding that the leading Democratic negotiators "support this approach."
Schumer said he would use "a shell bill" because the completed text hasn't been written as negotiators iron out disagreements about how it should be funded. "This will allow the Senate to begin debate and amendments on the bipartisan bill," Schumer said.
He said the motion Wednesday would allow him to move quickly to swap in the official bill that the group of five Democratic and five Republican senators are working on as "the first substitute amendment" Thursday.
If it's not done by then, "I will offer an amendment that consists only of the elements of the bill that have gone through committee with substantial bipartisan support," he said.
It's unclear whether the vote will succeed. It will require 60 senators to break a filibuster.
Numerous Republicans say they won't support a motion to begin debate until a final agreement on all aspects of the legislation has been reached.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has been quiet about whether he would support the infrastructure deal, said it must be written before the Senate begins debate.
"We need to see the bill before voting to go to it. I think that's pretty easily understood," he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a member of the infrastructure working group, said she didn't think "we'll be ready on Wednesday."
"We've done yeoman's work in getting us to the point that we're at now," she said. "But if what we're trying to do is to succeed — and I would like to think that Sen. Schumer would actually like this to succeed — then he will allow us that time to make sure that the language is right, that people have an opportunity to actually look at what they might be voting on, so that we can get the votes that we need in support."
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a member of the group, didn't say Monday how he would vote.
Other key Republicans sounded optimistic that a deal would be reached.
"There were more than two dozen differences to negotiate on last night. Now we're down to over a dozen," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a leading negotiator in the bipartisan group, told reporters. "We're moving quickly, you know, I think at a sprinter's pace, given the significance of this response — it's a marathon at a sprinter's pace."
Schumer said on the Senate floor that beginning debate on a bill that isn't fully written is "a routine process in this chamber."
"It's a sign of good faith from both sides that negotiations will continue in earnest and both sides are committed to reaching an outcome," he said.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said scheduling a vote for Wednesday "puts pressure to get some sh-- done."
"We've got a meeting tonight. I still think it's fairly possible," he said, adding that there remain areas that are "not huge issues, but they just need to be ironed out."
One financing mechanism provision that had divided the parties was to provide additional money for the IRS to enforce existing tax laws and collect more revenue. But that faced Republican pushback, and it was dropped over the weekend.
Tester said the group had settled on a replacement "pay-for" but did not reveal what it was.
President Joe Biden made a pitch for the infrastructure plan and other spending proposals Monday at the White House during remarks about the economy.
"This is a blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back," he said. "Simply put, we can't afford not to make these investments. Now, we're going to pay for them responsibly, as well, by ensuring that our largest corporations, the very wealthiest among us, pay their fair share."