New hurdle slows $1 trillion infrastructure bill
Senate action on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill has slowed to a crawl as lawmakers haggle over more than 250 proposed amendments to the legislation.
In several instances, senators are holding their colleagues’ amendments hostage by objecting to voting on them unless their own priorities are also guaranteed a vote.
But with nearly 300 amendments filed, not everyone is going to get their proposed changes to the legislation on the Senate floor, fueling frustrations among senators on both sides of the aisle.
Senators say they expect the bipartisan package to come up for a final series of votes as soon as this weekend. But the timing will depend on whether Republican senators, in particular, feel they’ve been given enough chance to make changes to the legislation.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of the principal negotiators of the bipartisan deal, complained the package is moving “not fast enough.”
“There are people holding amendments that they really shouldn’t be,” he said. “Vote up or down. Churn and burn, baby.”
Tester at this point said “it’s probably going to be Saturday” before there’s a vote on final passage.
“I think we’re on course,” he said.
The legislation as introduced would provide $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $39 billion for public transit, $65 billion for broadband, and $55 billion for water infrastructure, among other provisions.
Senators had filed 281 amendments to the infrastructure package as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) offered 35 amendments, while Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, offered 16. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) had offered 23 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Lee and Blackburn are not expected to vote in favor of the final bill, but Wicker is in a group of Republicans on the fence over whether to vote to overcome a filibuster and set the legislation up for final passage.
Wicker has proposed giving tax credits to issuers of infrastructure bonds, increased appropriations for Navy and Coast Guard shipyard infrastructure, language striking out a section authorizing the sale of a certain ban of spectrum, and an amendment prohibiting the regulation of broadband rates.
Lee proposed a 126-page substitute amendment that would have repealed so-called Davis-Bacon wage requirements requiring federal contractors to pay laborers and mechanics no less than locally prevailing wages. It also would cut the federal gas tax by more than 11 cents a gallon.
Senators on both sides of the aisle teamed up to defeat the amendment by a resounding 20-78 vote. Had it been adopted, the entire bipartisan deal would have collapsed under Democratic opposition.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the group of 22 senators who backed the bipartisan negotiations that produced the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, said he would vote to defeat any amendments that would upset the carefully crafted compromise.
“I for one am going to maintain the integrity of the baseline,” he said. “I’ve told a lot of my colleagues I may be in a position to have to vote against some of the amendments, not because I disagree with the policy but if it [doesn’t] fit within the negotiations that I and my staff were involved in.”
After two days of voting on Monday and Tuesday, the Senate had processed only seven amendments, scuttling the possibility of getting the bill wrapped up before some senators plan to leave town to attend a memorial service for the late Sen. Mike Enzi (R) in Wyoming on Friday.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said some colleagues are holding up votes in order to gain more leverage for their own amendments.
“I know that there are multiple holds coming from our side,” he said. “I suspect there are a few on the other side as well.”
Rounds, who is also a member of the group of 22, said there are some changes he would like to make to the bill, but right now moderates are focused on preserving the bipartisan legislation that was unveiled on Sunday.
“At this stage of the game, we’re doing as much defense on some poison-pill amendments as we are” pushing for amendments, Rounds said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday reiterated his warning to Democrats not to rush the amendment process.
“The best way to pass this infrastructure bill is to not try to file cloture today and speed the process,” he said, referring to the possibility of a vote on a procedural motion to advance to a final up-or-down vote.
“This is an extremely important bipartisan bill. There’s an excellent chance it will be a bipartisan success story for the country and to try to truncate an amendment process on something of this magnitude I think is a mistake,” McConnell added.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Republicans are cooperating on moving the bill forward, at least so far.
“We are working well with the Republicans on amendments. Obviously you need complete support to move amendments to the floor. Up to now and hopefully to continue, that will work,” he said.
Schumer said he would keep the bill on the floor until it passes, even if it eats into the August recess, which was scheduled to begin Friday but now will be delayed at least a week.
“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes to get this done. Period,” he said.