July 15, 2021

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate majority leader pressed lawmakers on Thursday to make progress on President Joe Biden’s agenda, setting up a vote on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and demanding Democrats back a larger $3.5 trillion budget blueprint.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who like Biden is a Democrat, told the Senate the bipartisan infrastructure bill https://www.reuters.com/world/us/whats-us-senates-12-trillion-infrastructure-plan-2021-06-24 would face an initial procedural floor vote on Wednesday, but some Republicans working on the bill raised doubts they could meet the deadline.

Biden has billed both efforts as essential. In March, an engineers’ group said the United States could use a $2.59 trillion boost in government spending to address crumbling roads, water systems and other programs.

Lawmakers said they would work over the weekend to try to get it done. More than 20 lawmakers from both parties have haggled for weeks over details.

Biden on Wednesday sought to rally Senate Democrats behind the bipartisan bill as well as the separate $3.5 trillion budget initiative which includes climate change and social spending measures. Senators present said he told them it was time to “go big” and help Americans who are hurting.

Sixty votes will be needed to advance the bipartisan proposal, which means at least 10 Republicans have to join all 50 Democrats in backing the legislation in the evenly split 100-seat Senate.

Signs of difficulty emerged on Thursday when the Republican leader of the group, Senator Rob Portman, said he would not vote to advance the measure next week unless the legislation was ready.

Portman vowed to finish the job but said he would not shortchange the process. “I’m not going to vote yes if we don’t have a product … We’re going to get it right,” he said.

Schumer dismissed such concerns. “There is no reason why we can’t start voting next Wednesday. That’s what we’re going to do,” he told reporters.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, another member of the bipartisan group, called Schumer’s time frame “pretty aggressive,” but added: “My goal this weekend is to make sure that we can get there.”

Among the sticking points was whether to raise revenue to pay for infrastructure by stepping up the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service’s pursuit of tax cheats. “We want to be able to collect the taxes that are due, but we also don’t want to harass individuals. And in between is a fine line,” said Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the bipartisan group.

Schumer’s other deadline, getting all Senate Democrats to agree by Wednesday to move forward on the additional $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, stirred unease among some moderate Democrats.

Not all of them have given their blessing to the framework. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal country, said it would be a “challenge” to decide by Wednesday.

The $3.5 trillion outline covers large chunks of Biden’s economic and social agenda, including spending on child care, healthcare and education. Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy and for corporations to pay for it. They also hope to provide legal status to some immigrants.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Thursday that all Republicans would vote “no” on the $3.5 trillion measure. He said a day earlier that with higher inflation, the proposed amount of spending is “wildly out of proportion to what the country needs right now.”

Democrats will need the support of all 50 of their senators, plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, to pass the $3.5 trillion measure over Republican opposition, using a maneuver called reconciliation that gets around the chamber’s normal 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Edmund Blair and Howard Goller)