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Senate Republicans block start of U.S. infrastructure debate

by Reuters
Wednesday, 21 July 2021 19:56 GMT

(Adds final vote total, Romney quote)

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a move to open debate on Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure favored by the White House, although a prominent Republican said he believed the party would be ready to try again on Monday.

Weeks after senators from both parties reached agreement with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, on the outline of a bill https://www.reuters.com/world/us/whats-us-senates-12-trillion-infrastructure-plan-2021-06-24 that includes $600 billion in new spending to rebuild roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure, the narrowly divided Senate blocked the start of floor debate in a 51-49 vote.

With the Senate split 50-50 on party lines, the bipartisan measure needed the support of at least 10 Republicans to garner the 60 votes required to advance under Senate rules.

Before the vote, several Republicans working on the bill said they believed the outstanding issues could be resolved by early next week, and that another procedural vote held then could be successful.

"We'll be ready if we get a vote on Monday, which I expect, but that's up to the leader," Senator Mitt Romney told reporters.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had insisted on holding the procedural vote on Wednesday, saying that after weeks of negotiators haggling over details, it was time to start debating the measure on the Senate floor.

"Senators should feel comfortable voting to move forward today," he said.

Republicans had argued for delay. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that refusing to start debate on Wednesday would not torpedo the effort, because the Senate could later reconsider.

Some liberal Democrats have said they believed Republicans were deliberately slow-walking a measure that they could ultimately vote against.

Both parties have used "shell" or incomplete bills in the past to get floor action moving or satisfy technical requirements -- Republicans notably used this technique in attempting to repeal the Obamacare health insurance program.

Biden has deemed the bipartisan infrastructure bill essential. He also wants Congress to pass a separate $3.5 trillion budget initiative that allows legislation to be developed on climate change and social spending provisions that are anathema to most Republicans.

Democrats want to push the larger measure through Congress along party lines as soon as the bipartisan bill is finished. Republicans argued that two-step approach undercuts the bipartisanship of the infrastructure bill.

Schumer had hoped to get both through the Senate before the August recess. Both parties are acutely aware of the midterm elections coming in November 2022, which will determine who controls Congress for the second half of Biden's term. (Additional reporting by David Morgan and Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Sonya Hepinstall)

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