The Senate met for a rare weekend session Saturday with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, encouraging the authors of a bipartisan infrastructure plan to finish drafting their bill.
Several senators predicted that the text of the bill would be ready for review, but it was not done when the Senate opened late in the morning. It was also not ready when the camera sank after four hours of minimal activity. Rather, the work was still going on behind the scenes and it was unclear when the votes would take place.
Schumer said he understood that completing such a large bill is a difficult project, but cautioned that he was prepared to keep lawmakers in Washington for as long as it takes to complete votes on both the bipartisan plan and the budget bill that would allow work. later. a huge social, health and environmental bill of $ 3.5 trillion.
“The longer it takes to finish, the longer we’ll be here, but we’ll get the job done,” Schumer said.
The bipartisan plan is big too, with $ 550 billion in new spending over five years beyond typical highway and public works bills. Adding anticipated spending on those accounts over the next five years brings the total cost to nearly $ 1 trillion. A bill circulating on Capitol Hill indicated that it could be more than 2,500 pages long.
It is being funded from funding sources that might not be approved by the deficit hawks, including reuse of untapped Covid-19 relief aid and reliance on projected future economic growth.
Among the top investments are $ 110 billion for roads and bridges, $ 39 billion for public transportation, and $ 66 billion for railways. There is also $ 55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure and billions for airports, ports, broadband internet, and electric vehicle charging.
A bipartisan group of senators helped him overcome one more hurdle on Friday and prepared to see if support could be sustained over the next few days of debate and efforts to amend it.
Schumer wants the vote to be concluded before senators pause for the August recess.
“We may need the weekend, we can vote on various amendments, but with the cooperation of our Republican colleagues, I think we can finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill in a matter of days,” Schumer said Friday.
John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, predicted: “It’s going to be routine.”
Shortly after the Senate began procedural voting on Friday, it was halted. Cornyn said the reason was that some of the text of the bill did not conform to the agreement between the negotiators. The rare bipartisan job is testing senators’ ability to trust each other.
Moments later, voting resumed and the effort to proceed with consideration of the bill was approved by 66-28 votes.
Earlier this week, 17 Republican senators joined all Democrats in voting to start the debate. That support was largely sustained on Friday, with minority leader Mitch McConnell again voting in favor.
But whether the number of Republicans willing to approve a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda rises or falls, it will determine whether the issue of the president’s signature can reach the goal.
Cornyn said he hopes Schumer will allow all senators a chance to shape the bill and allow amendments from members of both parties.
“I have been disappointed that Senator Schumer saw fit to try to force us to vote on a bill that does not exist in its entirety, but I hope that now we can slow down a bit and take the time and attention to assess the benefits and the cost. of this legislation, ”Cornyn said.
Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, issued a statement Friday saying they were close to finalizing the legislative text.
The outcome of the bipartisan effort will set the stage for the upcoming debate on Biden’s much more ambitious $ 3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit that includes childcare, tax breaks and healthcare. Republicans strongly oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority, and they may try to stop both.