Washington — A procedural vote to advance the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure framework failed in the Senate on Wednesday after Republicans unsuccessfully pushed Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to delay the vote to allow negotiators to finalize the details of the plan.
GOP senators blocked the measure from moving forward in the evenly-divided Senate, declining to provide the 10 votes Democrats needed to begin debate on the infrastructure package, which is a pillar of President Biden’s economic agenda. The 49 to 51 vote fell short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
Schumer changed his vote from “yes” to “no” to allow for another vote “at a future time.”
While Schumer set Wednesday’s preliminary vote to nudge the bipartisan coalition of senators negotiating the specifics of the measure to reach a deal, they were still working to resolve outstanding issues. And without legislative text, Republican Senate leaders warned members would be unlikely to vote to begin debating a bill they haven’t yet seen.
Immediately after the vote, the group of 22 senators hammering out the measure’s details said 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 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.”
The blueprint, which prioritizes funding for physical infrastructure, such roads, bridges and ports, represents a portion of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda, and the White House has said it supported Schumer’s strategy for moving forward with the bipartisan plan.
The New York Democrat said Wednesday ahead of the procedural vote that it would be on a shell bill for the bipartisan infrastructure framework to simply get the legislative process started by proceeding to debate.
“This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out. It is not an attempt to jam anyone,” he said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Mr. Biden and a bipartisan group of senatorsin June, but the group has struggled with hashing out details on how to fund the proposal. The bipartisan group of senators negotiating the infrastructure framework met for hours again Tuesday and said following their meeting that they’re close to a deal.
“We are digging deep on things like pay-fors and we wouldn’t be continuing this effort if we didn’t think we’re going to get there,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said after Tuesday night’s meeting.
But Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah urged Schumer to push Wednesday’s procedural vote to Monday to allow the bipartisan group more time to finish its work and release legislative text.
“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.”
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a main Republican negotiator, said a group of 11 GOP senators sent a letter to Schumer asking to hold the vote Monday and committing to support efforts to take up the measure.
“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, we think that’ll be Monday,” he told reporters. “So that’s the purpose of the letter, to be clear there are 11 of us who are willing to make that commitment.”
Senate GOP leadership signaled they would like to see the contents of the bill before advancing the measure, especially as talks among Senate negotiators remained ongoing.
“These discussions have yet to conclude. There’s no outcome yet, no bipartisan agreement, no text, nothing for the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate, and certainly nothing on which to vote, not yet,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Senate floor speech. “So obviously if the Democratic leader tries to force a cloture vote on a bill that does not exist, it will fail. Around here, we typically write the bills before we vote on them. That’s the custom.”
Schumer “appears to be intent on calling a vote he knows will fail,” McConnell said.
Still, after meeting with the bipartisan group Tuesday, Romney said the group was close to resolving outstanding issues with the framework.
“It’ll be a long, long time until we actually have a full bill of text, but we may have all of the issues resolved by [Wednesday],” the Utah Republican said. “We put a little subcommittee together that’s going to take on a couple that are left, but of the 25 we began with, we’re down to a couple and I think we’ll get there.”
Schumer noted that if the bipartisan group can finalize their agreement by Thursday, he will then offer the text as a pending substitute amendment. If the bipartisan group does not come to an agreement by Thursday, Schumer said the Senate would move forward with considering portions of the framework that has passed Senate committees with bipartisan backing.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told reporters Wednesday that the deadline set by Schumer was important because he thought the negotiations were dragging.
“By putting today’s deadline, he has expedited the discussions and negotiations in a pretty impactful and important way,” Murphy added.
White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said on CNN Wednesday morning the president is “extremely supportive” of Schumer’s plan to move ahead with a procedural vote Wednesday, despite not having the bill finalized.
Schumer has long wanted the Senate to vote this month on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution, which will detail to Senate committees how to construct athat includes Mr. Biden’s agenda items omitted from the more narrow bipartisan deal.
Schumer and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee announced last week they had come to an agreement on a $3.5 trillion price tag for the budget resolution to pass Mr. Biden’s social spending agenda. The budget resolution is expected to include provisions that would expand Medicare, combat climate change and reform the nation’s immigration system, as well as the president’s proposals on child care and education.
If the bipartisan negotiations fizzle, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said he thinks the nearly $600 billion of new spending could be added to the $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, is traveling to Ohio to pitch his economic agenda on Wednesday evening.