This week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) addresses reporter after a key vote regarding the bipartisan infrastructure legislation on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Greg Nash

The Senate is formally kicking off a legislative sprint to advance Democrats’ two-track infrastructure strategy, after a bipartisan group finalized their bill over the weekend.

Senators are piling the work up against the start of their weeks-long summer break, which is scheduled to start on Aug. 9, though that could slip. The House left Washington, D.C., last week.

“Despite some bumps in the road, always expected on two bills as large and comprehensive as these, we remain firmly on track to achieve our two-track goal,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)  said on Sunday.

Schumer has vowed that he will hold two votes before he lets senators leave for their break: One on passing the bipartisan deal and a second on a budget resolution that greenlights Democrats passing a $3.5 trillion spending package on their own.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the bipartisan group made up of roughly two dozen senators announced on Sunday night that they had finalized their bill. The 2,702-page proposal provides roughly $1 trillion over eight years, with $550 billion in new spending included in the legislation. 

The bill — while substantially smaller than the proposal outlined by President Biden earlier this year —includes new funding for infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, transit, water and broadband. 

“We are proud this evening to announce this legislation, and we look forward very much to working with our colleagues in a collaborative and open way over the coming days to work through this historic investment in infrastructure,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who has led the talks for Democrats, said on Sunday night.

The Senate is expected to start processing, debating and voting on potential changes to the bill on Monday. 

Senators are hoping to move the bill relatively quickly and pass it by the end of the week. That would require cooperation from all 100 senators, who could drag it out further just by using the Senate rulebook.

“Given how bipartisan the bill is, and how much work has already been put in to get the details right, I believe the Senate can quickly process relevant amendments and pass this bill in a matter of days,” Schumer said on Sunday.

Conservatives immediately bristled over that timeline, arguing for the Senate to take a slower pace and allow members, who were largely on the sidelines during the negotiations, to read the bill. While senators had been getting pieces of the text, the final bill wasn’t publicly available until Sunday night. 

“This body has no business passing this legislation in a matter of just a few days,” said GOP Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), while specifying that he can’t support it. “We at least need a few weeks.”

If every Democratic senator supports the bill, they will need at least 10 Republicans to pass it in the Senate. Supporters of the legislation are feeling bullish after 17 GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), helped advance it over two initial hurdles.

The bill faces bigger headaches in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has warned she won’t take it up until the Senate passes the larger spending package later this fall. 

After the Senate passes the bipartisan bill, they are expected to move directly to budget resolution. 

Democratic leaders believe they will have total unity from all 50 of their members, which they need in order to pass the budget resolution. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sinema and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have also signaled that they will agree to take up the resolution, which sets the top line for their spending package and includes instructions on how to draft it. 

Unity on the spending package itself is less certain after Sinema raised concerns about the $3.5 trillion top line and Manchin has signaled that he’s concerned about the spending level. 

“I expect that, not next week, but the following week the budget resolution will be on the floor. It will be passed,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters last week. 

Government funding

The Senate will start its work on the 12 fiscal 2022 government funding bills this week, after the House passed bills before leaving for their summer break. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday to vote on three bills: energy and water development; agriculture, rural development and food and drug administration; and military construction and veterans affairs. 

None of the bills are expected to make it to the Senate floor before lawmakers leave for their summer break.

Once senators leave, they won’t return until-mid September. Congress faces an end-of-September deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. Given the time crunch, they are likely to use a continuing resolution, which extends last year’s funding levels, until at least closer to the end of the year.

War authorizations

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will move forward with its plan this week to take up a repeal of the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, which are both related to Iraq. 

The panel had been expected to vote on a measure from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), which would repeal both, earlier this year.

But that’s been delayed as Republicans have requested more information and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has decided to grant that before moving forward. 

The panel previously had a closed-door briefing and is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday to get the administration’s perspective on uses of force. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; Richard Visek, the acting legal adviser for the State Department; and Caroline Krass, the general counsel for the Pentagon, are expected to testify. 

Then on Wednesday, the committee will vote on the Kaine-Young resolution, which is expected to pass and be advanced to the full Senate. 

Schumer has announced that he’ll schedule it for a vote this year and talks are already ongoing about when it could come up, given a packed year-end to-do list once lawmakers return in September. 

Tags AUMFs Bernie Sanders Biden infrastructure plan bipartisan infrastructure negotiations Chuck Schumer fiscal year 2022 government funding Iraq War Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Robert Menendez Tim Kaine Todd Young

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