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Senate Republicans rebuff consideration of bipartisan infrastructure bill

The bipartisan group of senators negotiating the measure insist they are close to the finish line on how to finance the $579 billion package.
Image: Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters ahead of a test vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal in Washington on July 21, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — Republicans voted Wednesday to block the Senate from beginning debate on an infrastructure proposal, saying they wanted more time to finalize the details of the agreement.

But that doesn't mean the deal is dead.

The bipartisan group insists they are getting close to the finish line on how to finance the $579 billion package, even though the Democrats and Republicans disagreed about whether to formally begin consideration on the Senate floor.

The procedural motion failed 49-51, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switching his vote to "no" at the end to preserve his option to call the same vote on another day. The motion needed 60 to succeed.

A group of 22 senators working on the deal — led by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — said after the vote they "have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement."

"We will continue working hard to ensure we get this critical legislation right—and are optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal to strengthen America’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs in the coming days," they said in a joint statement. "We appreciate our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the administration, working with us to get this done for the American people."

Schumer said the vote was merely a first step, noting that there is precedent for the Senate to formally debate a bill that isn't finalized. He said it was "not a deadline to have every final detail worked out" or "an attempt to jam anyone."

He called the vote as part of a gambit to pressure the bipartisan group to finish its work. He is hoping to vote on the infrastructure deal before a month-long August recess and to begin moving a $3.5 trillion budget bill to address President Joe Biden's other economic policies on a party-line basis.

"Around here, we typically write the bills before we vote on them. That's the custom," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "Of course, here in the Senate, a failed cloture vote does not mean no forever."

McConnell has been quiet about the negotiations and has not said whether he supports the framework, which was negotiated by five Democrats and five Republicans and endorsed by President Joe Biden nearly a month ago. His position could affect whether it gets the minimum 10 GOP votes required.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the negotiating group, suggested the deal could advance on Monday.

"This vote should not be held today," Collins told reporters hours before the vote. "We are making tremendous progress, and I hope that the majority leader will reconsider and just delay the vote until Monday. That's not a big ask of him."

Collins said the group has been in touch with the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper that is tasked with evaluating legislation, to make sure the numbers add up.