First vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill fails as expected

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s dominated congressional news coverage for the past month had its first moment in the sun last night. It almost immediately failed. This seems to have been a bit of theater on the part of Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin because they obviously must have already whipped the vote and knew it wasn’t going to come anywhere near sixty. In the end, it didn’t even make it to fifty because Schumer had to switch his vote at the last moment, allowing him to bring it up for another vote as soon as Monday. So will it pass next week? Possibly. But there’s one minor sticking point they’ll need to overcome first, which we’ll get to in a moment. (Associated Press)

Senate Republicans rejected an effort to begin debate on the big infrastructure deal that a bipartisan group of senators brokered with President Joe Biden, but pressure was mounting as supporters insisted they just needed more time before another vote possibly next week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had scheduled the procedural vote Wednesday to nudge along negotiations that have dragged for weeks. But Republicans mounted a filibuster, saying the bipartisan group still had a few unresolved issues and needed to review the final details. They sought a delay until Monday.

“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the bipartisan group of senators, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats, said in a joint statement after the vote. The senators said they were optimistic they could finish up “in the coming days.”

Most of the coverage of this vote that I’ve seen this morning has attempted to focus on the bright side, suggesting that approval is just around the corner and Joe Biden will finally be able to chalk up another legislative victory. But you have to dig a bit further into the details to discover why the eleven Republicans who participated in this project weren’t ready to go along with the vote to proceed quite yet. Way down near the bottom of the linked article there is a reference to a letter that the eleven GOP members sent to Schumer. It says that they will likely be ready to proceed to a vote on Monday “if certain details about the package are ready.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnel was a bit more blunt about it. “Around here, we typically write the bills before we vote on them,” he said.

So the reality is that the bipartisan group hasn’t even finished writing the bill yet. There is still the opportunity to tack on any number of new items that could sink it entirely, and yet Chuck Schumer wanted to push everyone to sign off on starting the debate yesterday.

Those of you old enough to remember the congressional debates over Obamacare likely recall when Nancy Pelosi said, “we need to pass the bill to find out what’s in the bill.” Chuck Schumer is never one to be outdone. The new message is, we need to vote on the bill before we bother writing the bill.

Some of you might be thinking there’s no harm in this. After all, they weren’t voting on the final passage, but just an agreement to move forward and begin debate. Fair enough. But the GOP has been burned too many times by agreeing to something only to have the Democrats insert poison pills at the last moment. And if they bring the bill to the floor for debate and then lose most of the eleven Republicans due to some last-minute shenanigans, what was the point of investing all of this time, to begin with?

The bottom line is that this bill may well move to the floor on Monday and possibly make it to Joe Biden’s desk. Then Chuck Schumer will be stuck trying to figure out a way to jam through the massively bloated three-to-five trillion-dollar Democratic wishlist that’s waiting in the wings. Since that would have to be done via reconciliation, the Senate Parliamentarian will likely be very busy in the coming month. Stay tuned.