GOP infrastructure negotiators rankled by Schumer’s deadline

Negotiators are still working out differences, and text may not be ready by Monday

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer met with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss the infrastructure bill.
 (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer met with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss the infrastructure bill. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 15, 2021 at 12:24pm

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s Thursday announcement that he will move forward on the legislative vehicle for the bipartisan infrastructure bill Monday surprised some of the senators crafting the bill who said they're worried about pushing forward on a measure that is still being drafted.

Those senators, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats, spent this week huddling to hash out details of the plan, which includes some $579 billion in new spending and $973 billion in new and baseline dollars over five years. But despite an informal Thursday deadline, the group still has considerable work to do before it can release the text of the bill. 

While Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he was optimistic about the progress the group is making, others acknowledge work remains. The 22 senators are said to be splitting their time across 22 working groups focused on specific portions of the bill, 11 of them on policy provisions and 11 on how it will be paid for. Just three to five groups have completed work on their portions, said a source close to the negotiations. 

Republicans said they had no warning that Schumer would announce plans to file cloture on the legislative vehicle Monday followed by the initial vote on the motion to proceed Wednesday.   “I don’t understand the majority leader’s tactics,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"Look, I appreciate the fact that the majority leader wants us to have a vote on this, and to have a vote as soon as possible," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a member of the group. "I don't disagree with that. But as soon as possible means when it's ready."

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., who is not in the group, said Republican members have “a real concern” about proceeding with a bill that they haven’t seen. Schumer’s announcement on timing, he said, “was a surprise to most of us.”

“It’s an artificial deadline and I’m not sure why he’s doing it,” he said, saying even members of his caucus inclined to vote for the bipartisan plan may hesitate to vote to back a bill they haven’t seen. 

“I understand he wants to try and get the process moving forward, but it could be really counterproductive on his end if he actually wants a result,” he said.

“I don’t know whether he’s setting the bipartisan bill up to fail so then he can move on to the reconciliation bill or what,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is also not part of the bipartisan group. “It’s hard for me to divine what’s in his mind.”

Schumer, pressed by reporters about such concerns, said his schedule provides plenty of time to finish the bill.

"The bottom line is there's plenty of time to get this done," Schumer said. "It's almost a week, and we should get it done."

Democrats

Democratic members of the group were more guarded. Rep. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with them, said he “can’t address” Schumer’s timing, while Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Schumer can “pull it off the table,” if he’s worried it will fail. 

“I see it as an opportunity to push us to get the deals and get it on the floor,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

While individual members of the group had said they hoped to have a final agreement by Thursday, that prospect seemed far-fetched by Thursday morning, and some members of the group girded themselves for a long weekend.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Schumer’s timeline is “pretty aggressive” and vowed to “keep working every hour of every day” in order to get the text done. 

“My goal this weekend is to make sure that we can all get there, that we’ve got not only the agreement, but we've got text that people can look at so that we're not in a situation where we say, ‘I don't know what I'm voting on, I just hope that it's good,’” she said.

Cutting and pasting

The group is beginning to write the bill, pulling from existing legislation advanced through committee work, including bills approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as part of each panel’s area of jurisdiction over surface transportation. 

A third committee, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, has jurisdiction over transit but has yet to take up its portion of the bill. 

An energy infrastructure bill advanced by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday could also provide elements of the bipartisan measure, said Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., chairman of that panel.

The House, meanwhile, on July 1 passed a $759 billion, five-year highway bill that House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., said contained key policy provisions sought by President Joe Biden. It’s unclear how much the Senate is drawing from that plan, though lawmakers have worked closely with the House Problem Solvers Caucus for input.

Some lawmakers privately speculated Schumer is working to move the bill quickly in order to advance the budget reconciliation bill agreed upon on Tuesday night. Schumer also said Thursday that Wednesday of  next week will be the deadline for "the entire Senate Democratic Caucus to move forward on the budget resolution with reconciliation instructions." 

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have made it clear that they want to legislatively tie the bipartisan proposal to the reconciliation plan, with Schumer reiterating Wednesday that he wants “total agreement on both before we move either.” 

But that prospect has alienated Republicans, who say linking the two hangs an albatross around the bipartisan bill, as well as some moderate House Democrats critical of the prospect of linking the two. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, led nine other Democratic colleagues Thursday in sending a letter to Pelosi urging her to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill before August “and without any unnecessary or artificial delay upon arrival from the Senate.” 

Counting revenue

Once drafted, the legislation also needs to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, which does not yet have the text of a final product. 

The group, which has informally consulted the CBO as it has worked to flesh out the framework, has said it plans to have the plan fully paid for through a menu of options. Those include selling part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, hoped to generate $6 billion, and auctioning off part of the 5G radio spectrum, hoped to generate $65 billion, according to an early draft of the framework.

But lawmakers expressed concern about how the CBO would evaluate one option: increased IRS enforcement, which is hoped to generate $100 billion after an initial investment of $40 billion. 

Some senators have said they worry that the CBO won’t count that as revenue, which would prevent them from saying the bill is fully paid for. Sen. Jon Tester, R-Mont., said Thursday that the offset is "being negotiated," but acknowledged the group is looking at alternative pay-fors to replace that revenue.

The deal reached by the bipartisan group and the Biden administration would include $579 billion in new spending, including $109 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $11 billion for safety; $49 billion for transit; $66 billion for rail; and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, a key Biden priority.

Jennifer Shutt and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.