This week: Senate races toward summer break

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) arrives to the Capitol on Saturday, August 7, 2021 for a weekend session to finish up work on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Greg Nash

The Senate is moving to finish up its two-part infrastructure strategy this week and let members leave for a weeks-long summer break.

The House is out of session this week. But the Senate was in town for rare back-to-back weekend work, after they missed their expected exit from Washington for the August recess. 

Senators voted on Sunday night to end debate on the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill crafted by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House.

But without an agreement, they are unlikely to vote to pass the bill before Tuesday. Democrats also want to pass a budget resolution that includes instructions for how to pass their $3.5 trillion spending plan before they leave town. 

“The two-track process is moving along. … It’s taken a while, but it’s going to be worth it, as hopefully we pass both bills very, very soon,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday night.

The Senate had hoped to wrap up the bipartisan bill last week, with leadership trying to get a deal on 16 to 25 potential amendments before voting to pass the legislation. 

But that ultimately fell apart. The bill has instead been moving at a crawl toward the Senate’s finish line after Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) warned that he would not let senators speed up the 60 hours they have to run the clock before a final vote under the Senate’s rulebook. 

“I’m not inclined to expedite this process whatsoever,” Hagerty told reporters over the weekend. 

That’s left the Senate stalemated over setting up final votes on potential changes to the bill. Senators view the two discussions — speeding up the bill and getting amendment votes — as linked.

Hagerty and GOP senators tried to set up some amendment votes on Sunday but they were blocked by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who led the negotiations on the bipartisan bill for Democrats, who noted they didn’t have the larger agreement. 

“We do not have unanimous consent on either a time agreement or on moving forward on amendments,” Sinema said. 

Without agreeing to speed up the bill, senators won’t be able to vote to pass it until at least early Tuesday morning. 

Despite the legislative traffic jam, roughly 20 GOP senators support the bill, though Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the supporters, is in quarantine after he tested positive in a breakthrough COVID-19 case. 

The bill did lose the support on Sunday night of Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who had both been helping vote to advance it throughout last week. 

“As I’ve said many times, while I’m eager for a bill that makes these investments, I’m also committed to doing so in a fiscally responsible way. Having reviewed the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimated fiscal impact of this legislation as currently constructed, and frankly still not being comfortable with a number of the Democratic priorities contained in this version, I will vote ‘no,’ ” Young said in a statement. 


Once the Senate finishes the bipartisan bill, Democrats are expected to call up a budget resolution that includes instructions for drafting their $3.5 trillion spending plan that they can pass without GOP votes. 

Though Democrats want to pass the budget resolution this week, the spending bill itself, which is expected to include top priorities like immigration reform and expanding Medicare, won’t come up until this fall. 

Democrats haven’t yet said if they will try to use the spending bill to raise the debt ceiling, as Senate Republicans warn that they won’t put up the 10 GOP votes that would be needed to raise it outside of the budget process. 

In order to pass both the budget resolution and the spending package later this year, Schumer will need total unity from all 50 members of his caucus. Though leadership is confident that they’ll be able to pass the budget resolution, which is nonbinding, unity on the spending bill this fall is less certain. 

Senators are expected to take up the budget resolution on Tuesday. 

Under the Senate’s rules there could be up to 50 hours of debate after they take up the budget resolution. Democrats would be expected to yield back their half of the debate time and Republicans are mulling yielding back most of theirs, so senators could move quickly to votes on potential changes to the budget.

“There’s a path forward that could involve some sort of agreement like that,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, but stressed that the deal would need to be agreed to by leadership. 

After the 50 hours of debate, the Senate moves to a vote-a-rama, a freewheeling session where any senator can force a vote on anything they want. The chaotic, hours-long sessions are frequently used to force political messaging votes that could be used in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. 

Voting rights

Democrats are leaving the door open to forcing a vote on voting and election reform legislation before they leave town for the August break. 

Advocates have long viewed August as a key deadline to pass federal legislation, but Democrats have struggled to figure out how to break the gridlock on a bill in Congress. 

Democrats previously told The Hill that Schumer was holding out the possibility of a vote on a slimmed-down bill to overhaul federal elections. Republicans previously blocked a sweeping bill, known as the For the People Act, earlier this year. 

A group of Democrats have also been negotiating a pared-back election bill that could win over all 50 members of their caucus. And Democrats moved over the weekend to make two bills, one dealing with redistricting reform and another with campaign election laws, available for a vote.

But Schumer hasn’t yet moved to tee them up yet, and hasn’t publicly committed to holding votes on election bills before the break. 

Any bill is expected to run into a GOP filibuster. Democrats don’t have the votes to nix the legislative filibuster. 

Tags Build Back Better Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer debt ceiling election reform Infrastructure John Thune Kyrsten Sinema legislative filibuster Lindsey Graham Reconciliation Todd Young voting rights

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