Republicans block an infrastructure bill in the Senate, after pleading for more time for bipartisan talks.
- July 21, 2021, 8:08 a.m. ET
Republicans on Wednesday blocked the Senate from taking up an emerging bipartisan infrastructure plan, confirming Democrats’ fears that they would balk at a major piece of President Biden’s agenda even as negotiations continued to cement an elusive compromise.
The failed vote underscored intense mistrust between the two parties that has complicated the effort to seal an infrastructure deal, even as Republicans and Democrats have come tantalizingly close to doing so. It left uncertain the fate of a nearly $600 billion package to fund roads, bridges, rail, transit and other public works, which could be the first major infusion of federal works spending since the 2009 stimulus law.
In a test vote of 49-51, with all Republicans opposed, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to move forward with an infrastructure debate.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, forced the vote in a bid to intensify pressure for a swift resolution to the infrastructure talks, acting over the pleas of centrist Republicans who said they needed more time to solidify their deal with Democrats.
“This is vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out — it is not an attempt to jam anyone,” Mr. Schumer said ahead of the vote, adding that negotiators would have “many opportunities” to add their agreement to the bill “even if they need a few more days to finalize the language.”
But Republicans said they were not ready to commit to considering an infrastructure measure, and warned that putting the matter to a vote risked scuttling a potential bipartisan breakthrough.
“There are a number of Republicans that want to be for an infrastructure bill, who are waiting for this process to conclude in hopes that it will be something that they can vote for,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican. “It’s a mistake for Schumer to try and rush this.”
All 50 members of the Democratic Caucus initially voted in favor of proceeding and all 50 Republicans opposed doing so, but Mr. Schumer switched his vote to enable him to bring up the measure again in the future.
It was an inauspicious beginning to what Democrats had hoped would be a season of intense activity on Capitol Hill, with action on a bipartisan infrastructure measure and a far more ambitious, $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would include sweeping investments to address climate change, expand health care and education and broaden child care and paid leave.
Instead, senators spent Wednesday trading blame for their failure to begin debating the infrastructure plan.
Republicans, including the five negotiators who have been involved in discussions on a compromise, argued that Democrats had threatened their progress by rushing a vote on the package before the deal was ready. Democrats questioned why Republicans, many of whom have said they want a bipartisan infrastructure compromise, would be unwilling to simply allow a debate to move forward while the negotiations proceed.
Underlying the finger-pointing were longstanding worries by both parties about the political ramifications of a deal. Democrats, particularly progressives, have long been concerned that Republicans would drag out negotiations to force concessions and ultimately withhold their support.
Republicans, for their part, are wary of getting locked in to an agreement with Mr. Biden that members of their own party — many of whom are deeply opposed to costly federal spending packages — might reject.
Still, even as they voted unanimously against the maneuver, multiple Senate Republicans said they would be willing to support a rescheduled vote as early as Monday if a deal could be reached by then. Eleven Republicans — enough to overcome a filibuster if every Democrat and independent agreed — readied a letter to Mr. Schumer making that commitment, though it was unclear on Wednesday whether he had received it.
“We’re optimistic that once we get past this vote today, that we’re going to continue our work and that we will be ready in the coming days,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a key negotiator. She said members of the group “think that we will be largely ready on Monday.”
Mr. Schumer could move to force another test vote on the bill, though it was unclear whether he would do so.
For Republicans who have been negotiating the infrastructure deal with Democrats, voting “no” on Wednesday was a calculated gamble that they would be able to swiftly finish the text and it could be brought up for another vote. Should they complete the deal in the coming days, they would still have to persuade enough of their colleagues to support the measure for it clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Twenty-two Republicans and Democrats released a statement after the vote declaring that they had made significant progress and were close to a final agreement.
“We appreciate our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the administration, working with us to get this done for the American people,” they said.