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Senate Republicans warn Schumer they won’t help on high-stakes infrastructure vote

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(WASHINGTON) — As the Senate barrels toward a key test vote Wednesday on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, some Senate Republicans involved in trying to nail down the deal are pleading with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to delay the vote until next week.

Key Republican negotiators in the bipartisan group of senators who have been trying to work out the deal say they believe they can firm up their proposal by Monday. The group huddled over Mexican food and wine behind closed doors for over two hours late Tuesday night, but left without squaring all of their differences on how to pay for the $1.2 trillion package.

Without a firmed-up agreement, Republican negotiators left the Capitol Tuesday saying they do not believe a single Republican will vote “yes” to start debate on any measure Wednesday.

Republican negotiators advocated that Schumer delay the vote until Monday to buy more time for the bipartisan group to finish its work. Schumer, the Republicans say, is well-aware of their position that waiting until next week to hold a vote would heighten the chances of success.

Schumer had set the high-stakes vote to try to force progress on a top priority for President Joe Biden, but he needs the Republicans to get past the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.

“I don’t think any Republican votes yes tomorrow. I don’t think we should, because we’re not ready,” the senior lawmaker said looking ahead to Wednesday’s vote.

Instead, the GOP negotiators debated sending a letter to Schumer saying that Republicans, who have been warning they won’t vote on advancing a bill that’s not yet written, are prepared to support starting debate on Monday, the senior lawmaker said.

The group, which has been working around the clock, along with White House officials, is “close” to a deal on how to pay for roads, bridges and other “traditional infrastructure,” according to numerous members involved. They were meeting again Tuesday afternoon — joined by senior Biden aides – to try to finalize a bill.

The White House said it continued to support Schumer’s tactics.

But the bipartisan group of lawmakers won’t get a final agreement by Wednesday, according to multiple negotiators. Negotiators said Tuesday that there are about six remaining issues with the bipartisan bill, the thorniest of which is how to structure spending on public transit systems.

At the same time, the senior lawmaker expects the legislation to be finalized by Monday, and that includes the nonpartisan analyses by various agencies breaking down all of the financing options, how much revenue would be produced, and a final price tag.

Republicans, in particular, will be looking to show that the $579 billion in new spending is fully paid for.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it didn’t appear as if Schumer would delay the vote, but he could minimize the impact, should it be headed for failure.

If it is, Schumer could switch his vote to the losing side at the last minute, enabling him as majority leader, under Senate rules, to call up the vote again for reconsideration.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday pointed to Schumer’s option to bring up the bill again in a few days, after the bipartisan group has had time to complete its work.

“No time is lost by adhering to a very simple principle, we are not going to the bill until we know what the bill is.

He could do so on Monday, when GOP members of the negotiating group say they’ll be ready to go.

Might a failed vote Wednesday poison the well for GOP negotiators?

No, said the senior lawmaker close to the talks, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the negotiating group.

The Wednesday vote is to start debate on a shell bill because there is no final bill from the negotiators. It would serve as a placeholder should negotiators strike a final deal.

The measure is separate from a much larger bill Biden and Democrats are pushing that would spend $3.5 trillion on so-called “human infrastructure” such as child care.

Democrats plan to push that through the Senate with no Republican votes, using a budget tool called “reconciliation.”

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