In March, President Joe Biden introduced an infrastructure bill that was slated to cost about $4 trillion total in new spending. In the intervening months, Republicans and centrist Democrats slowly whittled at that number, and the proposals in the bill. Now, it’s a paltry $579 billion in new spending — and Republicans, they say, still aren’t happy.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) set a procedural vote to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill for Wednesday, saying that “it’s time to move forward” with the bill. The topline spending number hasn’t changed, and they’ve just been negotiating the details for a month, as Schumer pointed out.
But Republicans, who have stalled the bill with negotiations for months, say that they’ll vote against advancing the bill to debate because (despite months of negotiations) they still need more time.
Evidently, all 50 Senate Republicans are set to reject advancing the bill, which means that even the Republicans who had helped to negotiate the bill in its current form aren’t planning to vote for it. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who is also part of the bipartisan group negotiating the bill, say that the vote should wait until next week, when more details of the bill can be hammered out.
But Schumer disagrees with their reasoning. The vote on Wednesday isn’t whether or not to approve the bill; it’s a vote on whether or not to advance with debate on it. “There’s no reason it should fail,” Schumer told CNN on Tuesday. “What is the reason? They say they need the whole bill text, they haven’t asked for that on bill after bill after bill.”
Meanwhile, one of the major points of contention in the bipartisan negotiations is how to pay for the bill. Republicans have rejected proposal after proposal to pay for the bill, refusing to agree to tax hikes on corporations and the rich and even rejecting modest funding for the Internal Revenue Service to better enforce tax law. Instead, they’ve proposed taxes on the middle and lower classes, which Democrats won’t agree to.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Wednesday that if Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans won’t agree to that either. “I can’t imagine there will be a single Republican voting to raise the debt ceiling after what we’ve been experiencing,” he said.
He added that if Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling — one of their only options left after so many pay-for options have been rejected — they’ll have to pursue it themselves in the reconciliation process.
Even so, if Democrats choose a path to raise the debt ceiling that circumvents Republicans, conservative Democrats like Manchin could stand in their way. Plus, Democrats raising the debt ceiling opens an avenue for the GOP to criticize them for spending, even though they weren’t too concerned about the national debt during the Donald Trump years.
“The leader’s statements on debt ceiling are shameless, cynical and totally political,” Schumer said in reaction to McConnell’s statements. “This debt is Trump debt. It’s COVID debt.”
The takeaway, argue progressives, is that Republicans are dangling their support for the bill in front of Democrats while delaying the bill to further politicize and weaken the proposal. This is similar to what happened to the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration: Democrats kept making concession after concession to Republicans for the proposal until it was significantly weaker than the original idea. And then, no Republicans voted for it anyway.
There are clear parallels between then and now. Without Republican support for pay-fors or a raising of the debt ceiling for the bill, it’s unclear how it will get passed at all. A stalemate over the debt ceiling could end up leading to yet another government shutdown.
“They’ve been killing time for months and and at this point, I believe it’s starting to get to a point where this bipartisan effort is seeming to serve less on investing in our infrastructure and serving more the end of just delaying action,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s been enough.”