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Infrastructure falters again with doomed vote in Senate; Tester among 11 still pushing

Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess stands with Sen. Jon Tester to discuss the urgency of an infrastructure bill before the Senate in early July. But the Senate remains mired in debate and has failed to move the bill forward. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The saga of getting an infrastructure deal passed on Capitol Hill continues into another week after a procedural Senate vote to debate a bill that doesn’t yet formally exist failed on party lines Wednesday, 49-51.

Had it passed with the requisite 60 votes needed to overcome any filibustering, the procedural vote would have set up debate on the bipartisan infrastructure framework deal loosely struck by members of the Senate and President Joe Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer initially cast a vote in favor of the motion to proceed to debate, then cast a no vote on the floor. The reason for this is so that the lawmaker, under congressional procedure, could then submit a motion to reconsider the vote at a later time. Schumer did exactly that on Wednesday evening.

With Democrats eager to secure passage, Schumer’s decision to schedule the vote for debate Wednesday, despite no text of the legislation yet appearing anywhere on the books, is largely what is thought to have doomed it.

Schumer defended his decision, saying the procedural vote was intended to serve as a catalyst that could juice negotiations on the framework that is expected to cost more than $1 trillion over the next five years with $579 billion in new spending up front.

Lawmakers are sharply divided over how to pay for the package and where to prioritize funding when and if it is finally approved.

Delaware Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat who has been a vocal proponent of taking more expansive efforts to tackle climate change, voted in favor of the motion to proceed to debate. In a statement afterward, however, he said that “more must be done to guarantee” his support for the legislation being drafted. 

“The bill we pass now will have consequences for our nation for years to come — I cannot endorse this proposal until I review the full legislative text and ensure that it is driven by policy expertise and designed to meet the needs of the American people,” he said. 

Before the failed vote, according to Politico, Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who has been spearheading negotiations, was in the midst of sending a letter to Schumer, joined by 11 Republican senators, that clarified the GOP’s willingness to carve a path forward.

They “intend to advance the bill pending negotiations,” Politico reported, and after the Congressional Budget Office scores the package.

“We’re voting no today because we’re not ready, but we’re saying we do want to take up this bill as soon as we are and we think that will be on Monday,” Portman told reporters Wednesday.

In a joint statement from the 11 lawmakers working on negotiations for the infrastructure framework, the group said: “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.”

The statement was signed by Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Roney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Todd Young of Indiana. The Democrats who joined them are Senators Chris Coons of Delaware, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Mark Kelly and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Warner of Virginia, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Jon Tester of Montana.

Democrats need 10 Republicans to join them to pass legislation when all 50 Democratic senators are united and most other Republicans are opposed.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Biden’s infrastructure agenda from within the Democratic party but has told reporters on Capitol Hill he expects the votes will be there next week to move ahead.

Passing the bipartisan infrastructure deal is key to President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative, which is aimed at boosting the economy after more than a year of a deadly pandemic. It was not until last month, however, that the White House and lawmakers announced their burgeoning agreement.

Of the $1 trillion over five years — still just one part of a $4 trillion agenda — just $579 billion would be new spending, focused on investments for typical infrastructure needs like improving and maintaining the nation’s roads, bridges, trains and public transportation systems.

The initial framework also featured roughly $65 billion for broadband infrastructure and $55 billion for water infrastructure needs. A considerable $73 billion sum was flagged for the nation’s power grid and almost $50 billion would go into making America more resilient and nimble in its response to both severe weather as well as climate change.

A budget resolution deal is still in the works, too, something that would help Democrats overcome Republican objections to the administration’s agenda. Those negotiations are not expected to gain any traction, however, until the fall. Senate Democrats last week announced they had reached agreement on a $3.5 trillion resolution that would rain down federal resources into “human infrastructure” programs beyond typical roads and bridges investments.

Meanwhile, outside of the Washington gridlock, the president is preparing on Wednesday night to stump for greater infrastructure investment in Ohio as the nation wrestles to put the pandemic in its rearview.

Biden will visit the IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Center to promote unions and how his administration intends to shore up organized labor in a mostly Republican-leaning state that has seen its share of Covid-19 related economic hardship. Showing hopeful signs for growth, the state reported that its unemployment rate dropped by nearly half since last month.

After the visit to the training center, Biden will participate in a town hall to be aired on CNN and hosted from Mt. St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.

In Missoula, Tester lauds infrastructure bill as ‘once-in-a-century’ opportunity