WASHINGTON – The bipartisan infrastructure deal senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial test vote today as senators struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.
Tensions were rising Tuesday as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas – including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill – restless Democrats say it's time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.
“It is not a fish or cut bait moment,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., describing the procedural vote as just a first step to “get the ball rolling” as bipartisan talks progress.
Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays – not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.
Biden asserted Tuesday that Americans are overwhelmingly in support of his plan and “that's the part that a lot of our friends on the other team kind of miss.”
The other team begs to differ.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and some outside groups decry what they call Biden's “spending spree,” and McConnell has said big spending is “the last thing American families need.”
A core group of Republicans is interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects, about $600 billion in new funds, and say they just need more time to negotiate with the White House.
Biden has been in touch with both Democrats and Republicans for several days.
While Biden proposes paying for his proposals with a tax hike on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has been working almost around the clock to figure out a compromise way to pay for its package, having dashed ideas for boosting the gas tax drivers pay at the pump or strengthening the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax scofflaws.
Instead, senators in the bipartisan group are considering rolling back a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates that could bring in some $170 billion to be used for infrastructure.
Ten Republicans would be needed in the evenly split Senate to join all 50 Democrats in reaching the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill past a filibuster to formal consideration.
Republicans are reluctant to open debate as the bipartisan bill remains a work in progress.
At a private lunch meeting Tuesday, McConnell and others urged Republican senators to vote no, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the session.
Some senators want to delay the vote to Monday. “We're making progress, but we need more time,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the members of the bipartisan group.
By setting the vote now, Schumer is trying to nudge negotiations along, a strategy both parties have used before. If it fails today he can set another vote to proceed to the bill later.