WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Republicans have rejected an effort to start debate on the great infrastructure agreement that a bipartisan group of senators negotiated with President Joe Biden, but pressure mounted as supporters insisted they just needed more time before another vote, possibly next week.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., had scheduled the procedural vote on Wednesday to advance negotiations that have been dragging on for weeks. But Republicans filibustered, saying the bipartisan group still had some unresolved issues and needed to revisit the final details. They asked for a delay until Monday.
“We have made significant progress and are close to a final deal,” the bipartisan group of Senators, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats said in a joint statement after the vote. Senators said they were optimistic about the possibility of finishing “in the next few days”.
The nearly $ 1,000 billion five-year measure includes about $ 579 billion in new spending on roads, broadband and other public works projects – a first phase of Biden’s infrastructure program, which will be followed by a much larger $ 3.5 trillion measure from Democrats next month.
Biden’s top priority is at a critical time, posing a test of his ability to forge bipartisan cooperation in Washington and to make investments that the White House sees as crucial to the country’s ability to emerge from the COVID crisis. 19 and stimulate economic growth.
President traveled to Ohio later Wednesday to promote its economic policies, and called its infrastructure program a “blue collar plan to rebuild an American economy.” He said Americans overwhelmingly support his plan.
In a CNN town hall, Biden also spoke about the benefits of the bipartisan framework, saying, “It’s a good thing and I think we’ll do it.” He also referred to the dangerously obsolete Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River, saying they would “fix that damn bridge of yours.”
At another point, a union electrician asked Biden if it was possible to bring Congress together to pass an infrastructure bill that would help the region replace the bridge.
“The answer is, absolutely, positively, yes,” the president said.
The party line vote kept the bill from moving forward, 51-49, and is well below the 60 votes required by Senate rules. Schumer switched his vote to “no” at the end, a procedural step that would allow him to quickly reverse his decision.
The bipartisan group worked for days with Biden’s aides to strike a deal, which would be a first phase of the president’s possible package of more than $ 4 trillion domestic spending – not just on roads and bridges, but the basics of everyday life, including child care, tax breaks for families, education and the expansion of health insurance for the elderly.
Next steps are uncertain, but the bipartisan group insists it is close to a deal and expects to complete it soon.
“We are voting no today because we are not ready, but we are saying we want to take this bill as soon as we are,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a leader of the ‘effort. “I think it will be Monday.
At least 11 Republicans signed a letter to Schumer saying they would vote yes to proceed on Monday, if certain details on the package are ready.
Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana was among Republicans who signed the letter and said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of reaching a bipartisan agreement.
Restless Democrats, who face a busy schedule while trying to stick to Biden’s priorities, nonetheless said they were prepared to wait if a deal was at hand.
“I am ready to give it another chance next week,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “But we have to fish or cut the bait.”
Senators from the bipartisan group were joined for a private lunch ahead of the vote by the two leaders of the House Problem Solver Caucus, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a bipartisan group generally favorable to the effort.
Schumer said senators were in week four of negotiations after reaching an agreement on a broad framework for infrastructure spending with the White House. He said Wednesday’s vote was no different from other times the Senate looked to get debate going and “not a deadline to sort out all the final details.”
But Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky urged Republicans to vote against, called the vote a “cutoff” that would fail, but stressed that Senators “were still negotiating in good faith across the country. the aisle “.
“Here we usually write bills before we vote on them,” he said.
Biden has been in contact with Democrats and Republicans for several days, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki, traveling with the president Wednesday on Air Force One, said the administration was “encouraged.”
As Biden offers to pay for his proposals with a tax increase on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $ 400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has worked almost around the clock to find a compromise to pay for his package. , after brushing up on ideas to boost the federal gasoline tax or strengthening the IRS to prosecute tax crooks.
Instead, senators from the bipartisan group plan to reverse a Trump-era drug discount rule this could bring in 170 billion dollars, part of which could be used for infrastructure. They are also targeting unspent COVID-19 emergency aid to healthcare providers and extending modest, multi-year cuts to a wide range of federal benefit programs, according to two people familiar with the talks who described the details. on condition of anonymity.
Senators are also still haggling over funds for public transit. Typically, federal Highway Trust Fund spending followed the formula of 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Some Republicans fear the ratio will drop to 82% -18% under the bipartisan bill, said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“Large numbers are involved,” Romney said.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said, “There isn’t a lot of sentiment for transit on their side. They don’t really believe in the word “public”.
Ten Republicans would have been needed in the equally divided Senate to join the 50 Democrats and meet the 60 vote threshold required to move the bill forward after obstructing a formal review.
Many Republicans are reluctant to move forward with the first relatively thin package, fearing it could pave the way for the broader $ 3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass under budget rules specials that only require 51 voices. Vice President Kamala Harris can break the tie.
Democrats hope to show progress on this bill before lawmakers leave Washington for their vacation in August.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has struggled to keep restless House Democrats in line as they grow impatient with the slow pace of the Senate.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter to 30 Democrats on the panel warning that the Senate proposal was inadequate and that House lawmakers want a seat at the negotiating table for any final decision. product.
Associated Press editors Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, and Josh Boak contributed to this report.