Chuck Schumer dares Republicans to vote against infrastructure bill

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Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is giving moderate Republicans an ultimatum: either go on record and vote for the nascent $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal or risk remaining in Washington through the August recess.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, announced on Monday that a vote to proceed with debate on the package would take place later this week. At least 10 Republican supporters will be needed to hit the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster and keep the bill alive in the Senate.

“The time has come to make progress, and we will. We must,” said Mr. Schumer.

Republicans bristled.

“It really is a parody,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “If my constituents think I was voting on a bill that hadn’t been written yet … they would probably try to recall me.”

The majority leader’s calculation is both practical and political. Without the deal finalized this week, Mr. Schumer must choose between canceling part of the summer recess or delaying the infrastructure debate for months.

When Congress returns in September, it must pass the annual spending bills needed to keep the government running past a Sept. 30 deadline. Allowing infrastructure to get bogged down with such vital legislation is “dangerous,” said a senior Democratic aide.

“You don’t want to be stuck trying to pass an infrastructure package while the clock is ticking down on the budget or a bill to raise the debt ceiling,” said the aide, who didn’t want to be identified discussing floor strategy. “In that situation, you could be forced to sacrifice one in order to get the other.”

What’s more, Democrats are attempting to move the traditional infrastructure bill in tandem with a $3.5 trillion package of social welfare spending. The bigger bill, which is packed with liberal priorities, is set to pass without Republican votes in a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the 60-vote threshold and pass with 51 votes.

Democrats also fear that sending Republicans home for a month without voting for the package will bleed away potential supporters. Vulnerable Republicans likely will be pressured at home to oppose the deal by constituents, advocacy groups and the conservative grassroots.

With such concerns, Mr. Schumer’s only option is to demand a vote before recess or cancel the break until a vote can take place.

Canceling recess puts lawmakers in a tenuous position, however. It deprives many of them, who are already facing reelection opponents, of time back home with voters. While the situation is likely to hurt Democrats more than Republicans, the stance is not favored by anyone in the chamber.

Complicating matters: The $1.2 trillion package is far from finished. A bipartisan group of negotiators is struggling to figure out a way to pay for the deal’s more than $550 billion in new spending without raising taxes.

Initially, it was hoped that boosting enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service could add up to $100 billion in extra revenue. The scheme entailed narrowing the “gap” between taxes owed and eventually paid by individuals. But it proved controversial among Republicans, with many fearing it would give the IRS expanded authority to “harass” taxpayers.  

There were also significant questions over just how successful the new enforcement provisions would be. Some economic analysts, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, doubted the proposal would generate as much as estimated.

Given the hang-up over how to pay for the new spending the package’s bipartisan authors are pushing back on Mr. Schumer’s demand to wrap up negotiations.

“Chuck Schumer, with all due respect, is not writing the bill, nor is Mitch McConnell, by the way,” Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said during a Sunday appearance on CNN. “So that’s why we shouldn’t have an arbitrary deadline of Wednesday. We should bring the legislation forward when it’s ready.” 

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