Schumer working to unify Democrats ahead of infrastructure fight

Schumer working to unify Democrats ahead of infrastructure fight
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (D-N.Y.) is working to hold Democrats together as he faces the biggest test of his tenure — navigating a massive infrastructure and spending package, the party’s top legislative priority, through the Senate. 

The Democratic leader got big breaks this week with the Budget Committee agreeing to a $3.5 trillion price tag for a Democratic-only bill and President BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE rallying the caucus Wednesday behind both the budget resolution and a bipartisan package. 

But much of the hardest work still remains as Democrats scramble to flesh out the details, get 60 votes for the smaller, $1.2 trillion bipartisan agreement and unify all 50 of their members behind reconciliation.

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Schumer, while taking a victory lap, is being careful to warn that Democrats are still at the relative beginning of a long process that could take weeks, but likely months, to complete.

“We know the road ahead is going to be long. There are bumps along the way. This is only the first step in the long road we will have to travel and must travel,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. 

Schumer has been working behind-the-scenes to try to keep his caucus unified, and more importantly not to have anyone draw the kind of red lines that could threaten their agenda.

“He’s calling each of us, 'where do you think we are,' 'can you talk to so-and-so,' … 'what do you think about this,' ” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Senate GOP likely to nix plan Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Budget Committee that negotiated the $3.5 trillion plan. 

Democrats are pursuing Biden's jobs and families plan along two paths.

The path for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal is to win 60 votes in the Senate, including at least 10 GOP votes.

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The path for the $3.5 trillion budget plan that will unlock spending on climate change, health care and a host of other issues is through budget reconciliation, a process that sidesteps the filibuster. Democrats cannot afford a single defection from their Senate ranks to get the measure passed.

Schumer has vowed to hold a vote on both the bipartisan deal and the budget resolution setting up the Democratic-only bill before the Senate leaves for a summer break that is tentatively scheduled to start on Aug. 9. 

The breakneck speed, a significant lift for a body that typically works at a glacial pace and needs hard deadlines, has loomed over the closed-door negotiations. 

It also is complicated by the linkages between the two packages. Republicans could be wary of supporting the bipartisan package because of the reconciliation bill. And if the bipartisan package fails, there could be pressure on more moderate Democrats to move away from the reconciliation measure.

Schumer has not said which bill he will bring to the floor first and Democrats say that it’s still unclear as they try to figure out their strategy and finalize both bills. 

“We have to have total agreement on both before we move either,” Schumer told reporters. 

Some Republicans have signaled that he should move the bipartisan deal first and warned that the deal on a top-line figure for the Democratic-only bill complicates the GOP calculus for the bipartisan deal. 

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony McCarthy, McConnell say they didn't watch Jan. 6 hearing MORE (R-Ky.) privately advised Republicans to consider the bipartisan deal independently of what Democrats might do under reconciliation — a process that Republicans can throw sand into but, if Democrats remain unified, ultimately can’t stop — according to two GOP senators. 

One GOP senator summarized McConnell’s message as, “you should view this bill as a stand-alone piece of legislation and don’t overcomplicate it.” 

The bipartisan working group has a self-imposed goal to resolve their remaining issues by the time senators leave Thursday so they can give finalized text to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). A source previously told The Hill that the bill could come to the floor as soon as next week, and while negotiators describe that as ambitious, they are also aware of Schumer’s desire to move quickly. 

“I think we are all just trying to keep on an aggressive timeline here. We’ve heard the word from Schumer, who says he wants to see this sooner than later so we’re taking that seriously,” said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas moratorium The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today MORE (R-Alaska). 

On the second track, Budget Committee Democrats met with Schumer as they negotiated their $3.5 trillion top-line figure and some of the key points of what they will include in the subsequent infrastructure bill. 

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To pass both the budget resolution and the subsequent bill, Schumer will need all 50 members of his caucus. Key centrists, including Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy: Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas review | Biden admin reportedly aims for 40 percent of drivers using EVs by 2030 |  Lack of DOD action may have caused 'preventable' PFAS risks Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas moratorium Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOn The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Biden, Sinema meet as infrastructure talks hit rough patch Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure MORE (D-Ariz.), are keeping their powder dry on if they can support the budget deal. 

But Manchin, during a closed-door lunch Wednesday, raised concerns about inflation and climate change.

“I said I’m concerned about inflation and I said I want to see more of the details of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m concerned also about maintaining the energy independence the United States of America has and with that you cannot be moving toward eliminating the fossil [fuel].”

And Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative Americans are targets of voter suppression too The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal MORE (D-Mont.), while saying that he’ll vote to proceed to the budget resolution, has stressed that he isn’t an automatic “yes” on the infrastructure bill itself, telling reporters that “we're a long ways before prime time.” 

And while progressive pushback was surprisingly muted, they are also sending early warning signs that they will fight to make sure their priorities get included as the Democratic bill gets fleshed out and are eager to see the details.

“For me, the devil is still in the details. There’s still a lot to learn. ... I certainly haven’t committed to vote for it yet,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE (D-Conn.). “The bipartisan package is too slim on some of the accounts that matter.” 

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Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause and wipe out K per borrower Senate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary MORE (D-Mass.), called the budget resolution a good first step, but that she would be “fighting” for things like universal child care. 

“What I’m pushing for is that we are committed to universal child care. We’re slicing up the money now to figure out the right way to make that happen,” she said. 

Schumer urged his caucus to not draw lines in the sand that could complicate Democrats' ability to rally 50 votes behind the $3.5 trillion package.

“There are lots of members who would want to say, well, if I don't get this, I can vote for the bill if I don't get that,” he told reporters. “But that can't happen if we're going to help the American people in the boldest, biggest legislation in a very, very long time that helps the middle class.”