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Infrastructure bill blocked by Senate Republicans as lawmakers haggle over details


Bart JansenSavannah Behrmann   | USA TODAY
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  • Senate Republicans block formal debate on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
  • Sen. Mitt Romney said a dozen Republicans could support the bill, once drafted.
  • Another vote could come Monday, after negotiators draft bill text.

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked the start of formal debate on bipartisan infrastructure legislation, a core part of President Joe Biden’s economic plan, because the bill text and cost weren’t available as negotiations continued.

The 51-49 vote against beginning debate, which needed to clear a 60-vote threshold to succeed, came after a series of late-night negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., changed his vote to help defeat the measure so he could be on the prevailing side to call it up for another vote in the future. Senators continue to haggle over details on transit and how to pay for the entire package.

But senators from both parties called the setback temporary, and another vote was expected as soon as Monday. That would give negotiators time to draft the legislation and score how much it would cost.

“We're optimistic that once we get past this vote today that we're going to continue our work and that we will be ready in the coming days with a bill that's drafted and scored,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he expects up to a dozen GOP senators to support the legislation. Eleven Republicans signed a letter to Schumer committing to support debate on Monday.

"A couple of areas are going to be worked on today and tomorrow, but I presume it'll all be done by early next week, and we will have another vote," Romney said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key swing vote, said remaining disputes would be resolved.

“Everything looks like it’s going to get worked out,” Manchin said.

The 22-member bipartisan negotiating group issued a statement after the vote saying a final agreement is close.

“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the statement said. “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."

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Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, was disappointed with the vote.

“It is unfortunate we could not agree to merely start debate today,” he said. “We are ready to put people to work building and repairing roads, bridges and other critical pieces of infrastructure. I am still hopeful we can get this done, with the support previously suggested by my Republican colleagues, without any further delays.”

Schumer scheduled the vote to spur talks that have already lasted a month.

“This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out," he said. “It is not an attempt to jam anyone."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., predicted the vote would fail for lack of legislative text.

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“This stunt is set to fail,” he said hours before the vote.

The legislation aims to provide hundreds of billions of dollars to build roads, bridges, railways and broadband, part of Biden's broader economic priorities.

Negotiations have routinely run late into the night in recent days, ending at 11 p.m. Tuesday. Lawmakers on both sides characterized the talks as productive and said dozens of disputes were resolved.

While the bipartisan measure generally enjoys broad support, Republicans are wary of Democratic plans to push more spending legislation totaling $3.5 trillion for provisions such as expanding Medicare and subsidizing two years of community college for Americans. 

Schumer repeated Wednesday that his plan is to vote on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion package before leaving for the August recess.

"That's the schedule I intend to stick with," he said.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said all 50 senators would vote to begin debate on the $3.5 trillion package.

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“At the end of the day, we will have all 50 on board for the most consequential piece of legislation for families in modern history,” Sanders said.

But McConnell called the combination of bills a "reckless taxing and spending spree" and said the legislation "would crush our country with a historic set of sweeping tax hikes."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters late Tuesday the time will be worth it if the bill succeeds, after “the twists and turns and how many times we got close to death.”

“I would not be messing up your nights that many times in a row if I didn't think this is going to get done,” Warner said.

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