WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday blocked the Senate from adopting an emerging bipartisan infrastructure plan, raising doubts about the fate of a key part of President Biden’s agenda, even as negotiators continued to search for a compromise.
The failed vote underlined the intense mistrust between the two parties, which complicated the attempt to strike a deal. Both Republicans and Democrats in the deal seeking group say they are still making progress toward agreeing a package that includes nearly $600 billion in new funds for roads, bridges, railroads, transit and other infrastructure. which could be the first major infusion of federal government spending on works since the 2009 stimulus bill.
New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer forced the vote to ramp up pressure for a quick resolution of the talks, acting on pleas from centrist Republicans who said they needed more time to finalize their deal. with the Democrats. Because many Democrats were concerned that Republicans would drag the process along just to withhold support from a final bill, he argued there was still time to iron out the final details.
“This vote is not a deadline to work out every last detail – it is not an attempt to disturb anyone,” Mr Schumer said before the vote, adding that the negotiators would have “a lot of opportunities” to submit their plan to the bill. add ” even if they need a few more days to finalize the language.”
But Republicans said they were unwilling to consider an infrastructure measure, warning that putting the matter to a vote would jeopardize a possible two-pronged breakthrough. On Wednesday, as they shuttled between meetings and votes, Republican negotiators said a final deal could come in the next few days, about a month after they first announced triumphant agreement on a framework.
“We are optimistic that if we get past this vote today, we will continue our work and be ready in the coming days,” said Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins and a key negotiator. She said members of the group “think we’ll be mostly done by Monday.”
With all 50 Republicans in the Senate against, the Democrats failed to get the 60 votes it would have taken to move forward with an infrastructure debate. All 50 members of the Democratic caucus initially voted to continue, but Mr. Schumer changed his vote to allow him to bring the measure up again under Senate rules.
It was an inauspicious start to what Democrats had hoped would be a period of intense activity on Capitol Hill, with action for a bipartisan infrastructure measure and a much more ambitious, partisan budget blueprint of $3.5 trillion that would include money to tackle climate change. , expand health care and education and broaden childcare and paid leave.
Instead, senators spent Wednesday expressing frustration at their failure to begin discussing the infrastructure plan and a private meeting to go over the details of how to structure and fund the package. In a joint statement after the vote, 22 senators involved in and briefed on the two-pronged efforts expressed optimism that they could finalize the deal and pledged to work through the coming days.
“We understand this is a legislative process, and it’s ongoing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One. The administration, she added, was “encouraged by the progress and grateful for the work of both the involved Democrats and Republicans.”
Republicans, including the five negotiators involved in discussions of a compromise, argued that Democrats had threatened their progress by rushing a vote on the package before the deal was done. Democrats wondered why Republicans, many of whom have said they want a bipartisan infrastructure compromise, wouldn’t be willing to simply let a debate go on as negotiations progress.
Underlying the finger were longstanding concerns from both sides about the political fallout of a deal. Democrats, especially progressives, have long been concerned that Republicans would drag the negotiations to force concessions and ultimately withhold their support.
Republicans are wary of being prematurely locked into an agreement with Mr. Biden that members of their own party — many of whom are deeply opposed to expensive federal spending packages — could deny.
But although they voted unanimously against the maneuver, several Republicans in the Senate said they would support a rescheduled vote starting Monday if a deal could be reached by then. At least 11 Republicans — enough to conquer a filibuster if every Democrat and independent agreed — prepared a letter to Mr. Schumer making that commitment, though it was unclear on Wednesday whether he had received it.
For the Republicans who negotiated the infrastructure deal with Democrats, Wednesday’s vote no was a calculated gamble that they could finish the text quickly and have another vote on it. Should they finalize the deal in the coming days, they would still need to convince enough of their peers to support the measure to reach the filibuster threshold of 60 votes.
“This is not a deal breaker,” said Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney and another negotiator. “This just ensures that we have an agreement between all parties before we actually vote to move on to the bill.”
“We have to go as soon as possible,” he added. “I’m not critical of the pressure to move — that’s the nature of the job.”
Since announcing their agreement on an initial framework, a bipartisan group of 10 senators and top White House officials have bickered over the details of an overall package that would bring in $1.2 trillion in eight years, with $579 billion in new financing for roads, bridges and broadband. and highways on top of the continuation of existing transportation programs, which the committee leaders have largely agreed to outside the discussions.
But the failed vote still frustrated some Liberal Democrats, who have repeatedly warned of what they consider to be the mistakes of 2010, when they postponed the vote on the Affordable Care Act in hopes of Republican votes that never came. They have argued that Democrats could easily incorporate the new spending on roads, bridges, broadband and highways into the broader spending package that will take shape in the coming weeks.
“It’s been too long — we’ve wasted several months,” Washington Democrat Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chairman of the Progressive Caucus, said before the vote on Tuesday. “The plan is always delay, delay, delay and wait until you have an August break.”
Virtual negotiations between the top 10 senators and top White House officials have lasted late most nights this week, and a face-to-face meeting over fajitas, tacos and wine ended on Tuesday when the last senators left just before 11 p.m.
They continued on Wednesday, as the group of senators met for lunch and briefed a group of Senate allies and representatives Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, and Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican from Pennsylvania, the leaders of the so-called House Problem Solvers Caucus. .
Legislators continue to disagree on how to maintain funding levels for existing transit programs. The group of key negotiators also needs to finalize funding for the general measure, with Republicans, in particular, reluctant to support legislation that will not be paid in full.
During talks over the weekend, negotiators jettisoned a provision that would incentivize IRS enforcement to collect unpaid taxes due to conservative backlash. Instead, they’re now debating the terms for undoing a Trump-era rule that changes the way drug companies can optionally offer discounts on health plans for Medicare patients.
Democrats are also working to outline the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, which will unlock the rapid reconciliation process and allow party leaders to advance the rest of their economic priorities by a simple majority vote, with Republicans being elected. bypassed. That outline is most likely not going to emerge until the staff of the Committee on Budgets know whether to accommodate elements of the dual framework, which would increase the cost of the package.
“Our job now is to move this as quickly as possible,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent responsible for the Budgets Committee. “I hope we have a budget proposal by early August to put to the vote and do what the American people want.”
Nicholas Fandos, Jonathan Weisman, and Jim Tankersley reporting contributed.