Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was scheduling a procedural vote for next Wednesday to begin debate on a still-evolving bipartisan infrastructure bill. Senators from both parties, bargaining for weeks, have struggled to reach final agreement on a $1 trillion package of highway, water systems and other public works projects.
Schumer said he also wanted Democratic senators to reach agreement among themselves by then on specific details of a separate 10-year budget blueprint that envisions $3.5 trillion in spending for climate change, education, an expansion of Medicare and more.
“The time has come to make progress. And we will. We must,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers working on the smaller infrastructure package met Thursday to discuss the details, but chafed at Schumer's deadline. They indicated that substantial hurdles remain, including how to pay for the nearly $579 billion in new spending over five years that they agreed to with the White House. The rest of the money in the infrastructure proposal is a renewal of existing programs.
“There's no reason to go prime time if you're not ready," said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., as he emerged from the talks.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said there were different views among senators about whether Schumer's timeline was helping or hurting the bipartisan effort. Warner said the White House is trying to work through with senators on ways to pay for the new spending without raising corporate taxes or user fees such as the federal gas tax.
“We're still short on pay-fors," Rounds said.
It will take 60 votes to start debating the infrastructure measure because Republicans are expected to use a filibuster — procedural delays — to try killing it.
That means the chamber's 50 Democrats will need support from at least 10 Republicans. Democratic leaders hope a bipartisan deal on the widely popular projects on roads and other projects would attract enough Republicans to succeed. Yet bargainers have faced major hang-ups over which revenues they would raise to finance the infrastructure legislation.
One of the biggest revenue-raisers, bolstering IRS enforcement to bring in an estimated $100 billion over 10 years, has been a major discussion point in negotiations. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the group was looking at alternative measures.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, predicted lawmakers will be able to craft a final bill, although he was unsure they will meet “anybody's arbitrary deadline."
“I appreciate the fact that the majority leader wants to have a vote as soon as possible. I don’t disagree with that, but soon as possible means when it’s ready," Portman said.
Meanwhile, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., want Congress to approve a $3.5 trillion budget resolution before lawmakers begin a summer recess next month. Approval of that measure is crucial for Democrats because it would protect a subsequent bill actually providing that money for specific programs, probably this fall, from more GOP filibusters, meaning Democrats could pass it on their own.
The Democrats’ accord this week on their overall $3.5 trillion figure was a major step for a party whose rival moderate and progressive factions have competing visions of how costly and bold the final package should be.
But it's merely an initial move that leaves the toughest decisions for later. They must translate their plan into legislation with specific spending and revenue figures, then line up the needed votes to enact it, a process likely to grind right through autumn.