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Republicans threaten to block debate on bipartisan infrastructure bill

Senate Republicans are threatening to block debate on a bipartisan infrastructure package this week because negotiators have yet to finalize a deal on $ 1.1 trillion in spending for the country’s roads, bridges and waterways. country.

The measure will require a minimum of 60 votes – including at least 10 Republicans to move forward.

“We cannot support the closure for something we have not yet accomplished,” Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a chief Republican negotiator, told reporters on Tuesday. “We have not reached agreement on key issues.

Talks in Congress on a narrowly drafted bipartisan infrastructure bill dragged on for months. Lawmakers involved in drafting the proposal are meeting again on Tuesday in hopes of reaching agreement on how the package is to be funded, but Democrats are increasingly impatient with the process.

“This is the side that was supposed to be the easiest… These are supposed to be the easiest to pay, and even so Republicans are dragging their feet,” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Said on Tuesday when asked about the negotiations.

It could take up to two weeks for the bill to pass in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats face a time crunch with the August annual recess on the horizon and a pile of legislative business to deal with when they return to Washington in September.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) has scheduled a vote on Wednesday in hopes of reviving the process. His plan is to start the debate on a measure that can later be amended with the text of the bipartisan bill, giving bipartisan negotiators more time to work out the details. This decision would get the ball rolling while preserving the ability of the minority to oppose the final product if they so wish.

“It’s only a signal that the Senate is ready to start a process,” Schumer said in a speech in Wednesday’s vote. “All a yes vote means … is simply that the Senate is ready to begin debating the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

But Republicans say Schumer’s bet is premature and could backfire. They argued that senators should see the text of the bill before voting to begin debate on a massive package, especially one that includes more than $ 1 trillion in spending for overhauling the infrastructure system of the country.

“Give us time to resolve the outstanding issues,” urged Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), another member of the bipartisan infrastructure bill drafting group.

“We have a pretty good idea of ​​where our members are. They will not get 60, ”predicted Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) when asked about the procedural vote scheduled by the Democrats on Wednesday.

Voting to move a bill forward before its legislation is finalized is not uncommon in the Senate. Senators did so earlier this year, for example, on an anti-Asian hate crimes bill and spending program designed to boost competitiveness with China. Republicans also voted in 2017 to begin consideration of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though they have no idea what the final bill would look like (an effort that has ultimately failed).

It’s unclear what Schumer will do if the Senate fails to push forward the bipartisan infrastructure package on Wednesday. At the moment, Democrats lack the voice to move on to their own $ 3.5 trillion “human” infrastructure bill, a larger package that includes money for housing, nutrition, the climate, health care, immigration and child care.

Key senators involved in drafting the $ 1.1 trillion infrastructure bill, such as West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, have signaled their reluctance to move to partisan legislation until there is have a resolution of the bipartite talks. Democrats need the support of their 50 members to start debating the $ 3.5 trillion measure.

“I am not committed to anything at the moment except for a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Manchin told reporters on Tuesday when asked if he was committed to moving forward. ‘forward with the $ 3.5 trillion Democratic budget proposal.

Other Democrats, meanwhile, are concerned that Republicans intentionally delay bipartisan talks in order to reduce President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

“Senator Schumer needs to be able to control the timing,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “They had four weeks to negotiate this. We’re not even asking for a final product tomorrow, we’re just asking for a motion to move the process forward.

The bipartisan group ran into a problem last week after Republicans and conservative anti-tax groups successfully lobbied to remove a provision from their bill that would have bolstered IRS enforcement as a source of income for new infrastructure spending. In its most recent official analysis, the IRS said it missed an average of $ 441 billion a year from 2011 to 2013 due to taxpayers’ non-compliance with the law and the payment of taxes they already had to.

Negotiators are now scrambling to find up to $ 100 billion – the projected revenue the government would collect over the next 10 years by closing the so-called tax gap.

“There is progress but it is difficult. When they removed the IRS provision, it created a hole that we now need to fill, ”Senator Angus King (I-Maine) said Tuesday.

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