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Infrastructure negotiations: Schumer’s gamble meets GOP threats

By Lauren Fox, CNN

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t blink.

The Senate is voting Wednesday on beginning debate on a bipartisan infrastructure plan whether the bipartisan group is ready or not. It has enraged Republicans, but behind the scenes, multiple aides tell CNN that the bipartisan group continued “productive” talks well into the evening on Monday night. Right now, no one thinks that this deal is coming together in 24 hours, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally dead.

What Schumer said

The majority leader laid out a two-punch strategy on the Senate floor on Monday night. First, he committed to holding a procedural vote Wednesday on infrastructure, but he left it open on what that bill would actually be.

Think of it this way: The vote is just on a shell amendment

On Thursday, Schumer will fill in what that shell is.

  • If the bipartisan bill is ready, Schumer said that he will fill the shell.
  • If that bipartisan bill is not ready, the plan is to fill the shell with transportation and water infrastructure bills that already had bipartisan support and give the bipartisan group more time.

The talking points

Republicans are going to say they are voting on a bill that isn’t even ready yet. Democrats would say they are just holding a vote to begin debate about infrastructure.

What Schumer did not say

Schumer didn’t say how long he’d give the bipartisan group to finish their proposal. Obviously, Schumer cannot wait forever for deal. He also didn’t’ say when the next vote would be.

“I understand that both sides are working very hard to turn the bipartisan infrastructure framework into final legislation, and they will continue to have more time to debate, amend and perfect the bill once the Senate votes to take up this crucial issue,” Schumer said. “But they have been working on this bipartisan framework for more than a month already, and it’s time to begin the debate.”

As CNN’s Manu Raju reported Monday, Republicans tried appealing directly to the White House to pressure Schumer to reconsider, but Schumer went ahead and got the process rolling. The process now cannot stop without consent from every single senator.

Why Schumer did what he did

If this all seems a little confusing, it might be because it is. But in Schumer’s eyes, the bipartisan group needed a deadline. And while President Joe Biden would love nothing more than signing a massive, bipartisan infrastructure proposal, the events of the last week have cast some serious doubts in the mind of Democrats about whether Republicans are actually ever going to get to “yes” on this deal.

Multiple aides have pointed out to me how wild it is that lawmakers agreed nearly a month ago on a framework on this deal and then Republicans in the bipartisan group fought to strip out one of the agreed upon pay fors worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion. One Democrat said of the fight over how to pay for the bill, “we knew damn well some of it was hokey, and we knew we weren’t gonna get a CBO score. Now, all of a sudden, they have to have a CBO score and all this stuff. It’s fine, but it just takes a lot longer.”

How Republicans feel

As for Republicans, they aren’t likely to put up the votes to advance this Wednesday. CNN has talked to every major Republican player during votes last night and over and over again, GOP leaders warned, Schumer wasn’t going to have 60 votes if he plowed ahead with a vote.

“I can’t say we will have every Republican, but he is not going to get 60,” warned Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the minority whip.

“If we don’t have a bill agreed to, I have a hard time understanding why we would proceed to a bill,” added GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

What the bipartisan group is working through

How do they finance their new spending? It’s the age-old question that imperiled their negotiations in June and the reason why every other infrastructure negotiation over the past decade has fallen apart. The challenge now is that Democrats are well underway in planning their own infrastructure proposal as part of the reconciliation process.

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