By Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After days of debate and votes on amendments, U.S. Senate lawmakers worked behind the scenes on Thursday to wrap up a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on which they largely agree so that they can move on to what is likely to be a partisan brawl over a sweeping budget […]
U.S. senators seek to wrap up infrastructure bill, await CBO
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After days of debate and votes on amendments, U.S. Senate lawmakers worked behind the scenes on Thursday to wrap up a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on which they largely agree so that they can move on to what is likely to be a partisan brawl over a sweeping budget spending plan.
Democrats and Republicans sought consent from all 100 members of the Senate to move forward with a vote to pass the infrastructure package late on Thursday, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to delay the start of their five-week summer break into next week to consider the $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
“Everybody understands that right behind this is going to be the budget, and I don’t think anybody’s looking to extend this out any longer than necessary,” Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters.
Lawmakers also awaited a detailed analysis of the infrastructure package from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a crucial test that would show whether the bill keeps its drafters’ promise not to add to Washington’s budget deficits.
Negotiators on the bill, which would fund construction projects ranging from road and bridge repairs to expanding broadband internet service, have argued that its $550 billion in new spending was being financed in large part by transferring money from existing programs.
Increased economic activity related to new construction jobs and business growth stemming from the investments were expected to spur government revenue collections, although maybe by not as much as lawmakers hope.
Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, declined to offer a prediction on when the final vote would come, saying, “There are a lot of conversations about how we might wind this down.”
Other lawmakers including Senator Rob Portman, the lead Republican in infrastructure talks, said a Saturday conclusion seemed likely. He told reporters that lawmakers on each side of the political aisle were holding up final amendment votes.
Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, told reporters: “The general notion is the sooner the better so we can get to the budget resolution and we don’t have agreement yet.”
The CBO report was expected to be issued sometime on Thursday. If it concludes lawmakers have fallen short in crafting a deficit-neutral bill, it could prompt some Republican senators to oppose the legislation after showing support in two early procedural votes.
In late July, 17 Republicans joined 48 Democrats and two independents in voting to advance the bill.
Those 67 votes are comfortably more than the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation.
No more than seven Republicans could cite newfound fiscal concerns and abandon the legislation on a final vote for it to still have enough support to pass, assuming all 50 Democrats and independents stay on board.
Among the 17 Republicans who gave an early green light are fiscal conservatives including Charles Grassley, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer.
Conversely, a good grade from the CBO could give Republicans, who are campaigning in the 2022 congressional elections against Democrats’ other big-ticket spending bills, reason to argue that this infrastructure bill would bring long-needed repairs to publicly owned facilities without adding to the nation’s $28.6 trillion debt.
If and when the $1 trillion bill passes, the Democratic-controlled Senate will then turn its attention to ramming through the “human infrastructure” budget framework that Republicans oppose by using a special procedure temporarily scrapping the 60-vote threshold for bills to advance.
It would finance more home healthcare and child care, along with climate change and immigration initiatives – projects that President Joe Biden wants to pay for in part with tax increases on the wealthy.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; additonal reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Sonya Hepinstall)