Debate on infrastructure bill stretches into Sunday — and likely beyond

Agreement to expedite bill blocked by Tennessee Republican citing CBO's deficit report

“I’m not trying to expedite this process whatsoever,”  said Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
“I’m not trying to expedite this process whatsoever,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 7, 2021 at 8:08pm

The Senate’s protracted debate over a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package looks likely to last a few more days.

Sen. Bill Hagerty, a first-term Republican from Tennessee, said Saturday that he will not consent to any agreement to shorten the 30-hour post-cloture time, a move that would push a final vote on the package until next week.

“I’m not trying to expedite this process whatsoever,” Hagerty said Saturday afternoon, hours after the Senate voted to support cloture on the substitute amendment to the bill.

Hagerty said he has no problem with considering any of the outstanding 16 to 25 amendments that Senate leadership was seeking to make a deal on, but “what they’re asking for is an expedited process that has nothing to do with the amendments.” 

“I’m not the one holding any of the amendments up,” he said. “They’re free to start under normal order.”

The Senate adjourned shortly before 7:30 p.m. Saturday and will resume work at noon Sunday.

Hagerty first expressed his opposition when the Senate had hoped to pass the bill under an expedited process Thursday, saying in a written statement he opposed the bill because of a Congressional Budget Office score finding it would increase the deficit by some $256 billion.

The bipartisan group of negotiators who brokered a deal on the bill had indicated it would be fully offset, and the two leaders of that group argued the CBO analysis did not take into account all of the potential revenue and savings.

But Hagerty said he could not “in good conscience” speed up the process, particularly knowing the final item on the Democrats’ agenda before breaking for August recess is to pass a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that will create a path for Democrats to force through President Joe Biden’s more partisan domestic priorities.

“There is a normal process in place right here,” Hagerty said Saturday. “There’s no purpose in my view to allow an acceleration of that given what has happened here.”

Other senators seemed resigned to a few more days of work. 

“It’s going to be regular order,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “We’re serene about it.”

“I think that we're just running the clock,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. 

Procedural vote

Hagerty’s comments came after the Senate on Saturday voted 67-27 to invoke cloture to limit debate on the amendment — the legislative language the bipartisan negotiators agreed to in July — to the bill that proposes $550 billion in new spending. Eighteen Republicans joined all Democrats in attendance to advance cloture.

The procedural vote established a timeline of 30 hours to debate the substitute amendment. After that, the Senate will vote to adopt the amendment, then proceed to a cloture motion on the overall bill. If Hagerty continues his objection, the Senate will debate that overall bill for 30 more hours before voting on final passage. 

Even as Hagerty insisted on regular order, lawmakers were trying to reach a deal on outstanding amendments. 

Early Saturday, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., hinted that debating the amendments may take some time, saying of the negotiations, “I don’t think they’re going well.” 

Thune also said Democrats were unlikely to agree to amendments if Republicans did not agree to yield back time. 

It would take all 100 senators to agree to take up amendments. 

"Unless there's an agreement, there's no additional amendments,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “There'll be another cloture vote, and then final passage. And so I think we're just trying to see whether there's enough support for getting some of those amendments voted on."

A Republican source familiar with the negotiations said senators were working late Saturday on a possible agreement for more amendment votes.

Both the current and former president weighed in on the debate as the Senate geared up for what promises to be the final stretch of debate on the bill.

In a statement, the White House said the administration backs the bill, calling it “the most significant long-term investment in the United States infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.”

“This legislation would make life better for Americans across the country, create a generation of good-paying union jobs, grow our economy, invest in communities that have too often been left behind, and better position the United States to compete globally and win the 21st century,” they wrote.

Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, had a different take.

“Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is a disgrace,” he said in a written statement. “If [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell was smart, which we’ve seen no evidence of, he would use the debt ceiling card to negotiate a good infrastructure package.”