As the upper chamber gears up to move forward on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is cautioning Democrats against placing an “artificial timetable” for passage, arguing for a “robust” amendment process on the legislation.
The Kentucky Republican’s comments come just one day after the group of 22 senators unveiled its 2,702-page bill to address “hard infrastructure” after weeks of negotiations.
McConnell — who voted in favor of advancing the measure in a procedural vote last week, which came as a surprise to some within his conference — praised their efforts, adding he sees it as a “good and important jumping-off point.”
“I want to thank the senators who have worked hard and long to get this effort this far already. I’m confident that out of the 100 of us who serve in this body, 100 of us will be able to find parts of this legislation that we wish were different. But I believe our colleagues’ draft text provides a good and important jumping-off point for what needs to be a robust and bipartisan process here on the floor,” he said.
“Infrastructure is exactly the kind of subject that Congress should be able to address across the aisle. Roads, bridges, waterways, airports — these things are not luxuries for the greatest nation in world history. They are necessities. Necessarily, legislation like this will be big and complex. It will necessarily affect all 50 states. That’s why — while I salute the hard work of my colleagues who produced the base text that’s now before us — their conversations can’t be the Senate’s last word.”
McConnell argued that debate on the measure should not be “choked off” as they look to advance the bill.
“Senators on both sides expect and deserve opportunities to have a say and to put their own states’ imprints on this major bill. Just as infrastructure itself is not a luxury, but a necessity, the same goes for the Senate having a robust and bipartisan amendment process on legislation of this magnitude,” he continued.
“Our full consideration of this bill must not be choked off by any artificial timetable that our Democratic colleagues may have penciled out for political purposes. Our bipartisan negotiators have already been taking this task very seriously. The American people need the Senate to continue taking it seriously.”
Cutting off debate on the measure could prove to be a point of contention between parties, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for senators to submit their amendments to allow the chamber to move swiftly.
“Last night, Democrats offered to begin the amendment process right away. There are three bipartisan amendments to the bill that we are ready to consider. Two are led by Republicans: a Rounds-Smith Amendment and a Thune-Tester Amendment. And another from Senators Padilla and Moran. Let me be clear, these three amendments would constitute only the first tranche of potential amendments. The Senate can and should consider more afterwards,” he said on the floor.
“… At the moment, we need consent from our Republican colleagues to start the amendment process and we await their answer. I hope that we can use our time in the Senate efficiently. Let’s start voting on amendments. The longer it takes to finish the bill, the longer we’ll be here.”
While a sizable number of lawmakers have expressed optimism on the prospects of the legislation passing, it faces a number of hurdles in both chambers, with both conservatives and progressives expressing reservations.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Sunday evening he has concerns over the bill’s spending levels.
“In its current form, I couldn’t possibly vote for it because it simply spends too much money,” he said in another floor speech.
“It spends money that we do not have, and it spends an enormous amount of money at a time when the American people are feeling the pinch of inflation.”
And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, blasted the bill as a “status quo, highway-centric bill.”
“We can’t perpetuate that,” DeFazio, who has been vocal in his criticisms on the Senate’s negotiation process, said during an appearance on CNN on Monday. “I mean, we have to deal with climate change.”
The Oregan Democrat noted that some of Democrats’ priorities could be addressed in a reconciliation package that would not need GOP support to pass the upper chamber.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a socialist, has also voiced that progressives are considering withholding their support on the bipartisan measure if a budget resolution allowing Democrats to move forward with their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package — with no GOP support — is not passed as well.
“We need a reconciliation bill if we want this bipartisan bill to pass,” she told CNN on Sunday.