This week: Senate faces infrastructure squeeze

Greg Nash

The Senate is set for a showdown over Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) threat to hold a key vote on Wednesday as he tries to advance Democrats’ two-track infrastructure strategy. 

The Senate is slated to return on Monday with negotiators in the bipartisan group of nearly two dozen senators still trying to hash out how to pay for that agreement, which costs $1.2 trillion over eight years, after they dropped a plan to ramp up IRS enforcement amid GOP pushback. 

Schumer has vowed to move on Monday to tee up a vote for Wednesday, when he will need at least 60 votes to advance the shell legislation. That will require the support of 10 Republicans if every Democrat also goes along with the strategy. If Republicans agree to start debate, they could then substitute in the bipartisan text when it’s done.

But Republicans have bristled over Schumer’s strategy, arguing that he’s trying to set an arbitrary deadline. Schumer, if he moves forward with his timeline, also appears poised to fall short of getting 60 votes as key Republicans suggest they shouldn’t move forward until they finish the bipartisan bill. 

“It’s actually 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats putting this together. Chuck Schumer, with all due respect, is not writing the bill, nor is [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.], by the way. So that’s why we shouldn’t have an arbitrary deadline of Wednesday,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who had helped lead the negotiations, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another member of the bipartisan group, told ”Fox News Sunday”: “How can I vote for cloture when the bill isn’t written?” 

“Unless you want program failure, unless Schumer doesn’t want this to happen, you need a little bit more time to get it right,” he added. 

Schumer’s time crunch comes as he’s vowed that Senate Democrats will advance President Biden’s sweeping jobs and families plan before leaving for a weeks-long summer break. Schumer wants to hold votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and advance a budget resolution that greenlights and includes instructions for a separate $3.5 trillion Democrats-only plan. 

The House, which is set to return to Washington on Monday, also needs to pass a budget resolution, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated they will wait until the Senate has the larger infrastructure bill. Democrats are pushing to pass the larger bill through reconciliation, allowing them to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster.

Schumer has defended his strategy, telling reporters as he left the Capitol at the end of last week that “the bottom line is there’s plenty of time to get this done.” 

In addition to the Wednesday deadline for the bipartisan group, Schumer also set Wednesday as the deadline for when Democrats should be ready to move forward on a budget resolution. Schumer has said he’ll bring the budget resolution to the Senate floor before the August recess but hasn’t specified when exactly. However, to advance the budget resolution, he’ll need total unity from all 50 of his members plus Vice President Harris presiding to break any ties. 

Schumer and Budget Committee Democrats announced last week that they had a deal on a $3.5 trillion budget agreement.

But they still need to win over holdouts like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who are keeping their powder dry. While Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has said he’ll vote to take up the budget resolution, he hasn’t said if he would support it on the final vote, when Schumer will again need all 50 Democrats plus Harris. 

Afghan visas

The House is set to vote on legislation to expedite visas — and increase the number available — for Afghans who aided the U.S. military. 

Evacuating Afghans who helped the United States is taking on growing urgency ahead of an end-of-August deadline for the end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban, which is making gains in expanding its territory, has targeted Afghan interpreters who aided the U.S. military. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week that roughly 20,000 individuals have applied for the special visas, though she noted that number did not include their family members. 

While the House is voting on the stand-alone legislation, the Senate is discussing folding the issue into a larger Capitol security funding bill. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) included it in a $3.7 billion offer he made to Republicans. Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the committee, has pitched a significantly smaller roughly $632 million bill. But he was open to discussing including the visas in a final agreement, calling it a “moral issue.” 

Voting rights

Democrats are trying to put a spotlight on voting rights even as they face hurdles to getting legislation through the Senate. 

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will hold a field hearing on Monday in Georgia on voting rights. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is one of several people slated to testify.

Hearing witnesses will talk about “recently enacted legislation to restrict voting in the state and the need for basic federal standards to protect the freedom to vote,” according to a release from Klobuchar’s office. 

The committee hearing will come one day after Klobuchar teamed up with Stacey Abrams and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to hold a roundtable with voters to talk about access to the ballot. 

“Just this year more than 400 laws have been introduced to limit people’s freedom to vote, and Georgia is exhibit A. …That is why we are holding a hearing here tomorrow – to get evidence of what is happening in Georgia and show the importance of passing basic federal voting laws to ensure all Americans can vote in the way that works best for them,” Klobuchar said in a statement on Sunday. 

The GOP-controlled Georgia legislature came under fire earlier this year as lawmakers debated, and ultimately passed, a law that sets new rules for voter ID and mail-in voting procedures.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last month that the Justice Department is suing Georgia, but Republicans have defended the Georgia law, with McConnell accusing Democrats of “fake outrage” over the recent state-level changes.  

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bill Cassidy bipartisan infrastructure deal Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Jeff Merkley Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Raphael Warnock Reconciliation Richard Shelby Rob Portman special afghan visas voting rights
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