Senate in talks to quickly pass infrastructure bill

Senators are aiming to wrap up a bipartisan infrastructure bill likely this weekend, though Republicans didn't rule out that it could be as soon as Thursday.

GOP senators, coming out of back-to-back meetings, said the roughly $1 trillion bill is likely to pass on Saturday, which would require a deal to cut down on of hours of extra debate time.

But they could also hit the gas and vote later Thursday night.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), asked about a possible vote on Thursday, described it as in flux but said that senators didn’t see a point in dragging out their debate.

“Everybody understands that right behind this is going to be the budget and I don’t think anybody is looking to extend this out any longer than necessary,” Cornyn told reporters after a meeting of key senators.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said there was a “slight possibility” that the Senate could finish the bipartisan bill on Thursday night.

“The odds are probably against that happening but it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” Collins said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said it was “more reasonable” to think the vote on the bipartisan bill was going to be on Saturday but that there was a “push” to get it done on Thursday night.

The attempt to move at warp speed isn’t final, and would take the agreement of all 100 senators. They still need a Congressional Budget Office score and senators are still haggling over how to set up votes on a last batch of roughly a dozen amendments.

"We'd love to start voting on amendments, that's the key right now," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the lead GOP negotiator. "There's some blockages now on both sides."

He added that he expected a vote to end debate would happen on Saturday and then the Senate could vote to pass the bill.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also pointed to the need for more amendment votes, and sidestepped when, specifically, he thought the debate would wind down.

“We still have amendments that need to be processed. Once they are we’ll be able to wind things down," McConnell said.

But the effort to speed up both the completion of the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan bill and the budget that tees up Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package comes amid a growing urgency to get out of town for a weeks-long summer break and the view that the outcome of the days-long infrastructure debate is largely set in stone.

"I don't think there's an interest in elongating the process," Portman said.

And in a boon for hopes of quickly finishing the bill, both Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) indicated that they wouldn't slow down the bipartisan deal, even though they oppose it.

"I made my mind up a long time ago," Braun said.

Democrats want to complete two pieces of their infrastructure debate before they leave for an August break: The roughly $1 trillion bipartisan bill and the budget resolution that includes instructions for drafting Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package, which they will try to pass without GOP support.

One of the sticking points for passing the bipartisan deal on Thursday is that they are still awaiting an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on how much of the bipartisan deal is paid for.

“There’s a number of things we need to do to be prepared,” Cornyn said.

Thune added that the score was expected to be out on Thursday afternoon and said “we’ve got to get a score before we vote.”

Republicans huddled in McConnell’s office on Thursday morning to discuss the schedule.

The meeting comes as Democratic and Republican leadership are in negotiations about how to wrap up the bipartisan deal.

Without an agreement, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) could move to end debate as soon as Thursday, setting up a key test where he will need 60 votes as soon as Saturday. 

The Senate, without an agreement, would still have to burn up to 60 additional hours before they could get to a final vote. How to handle that time is at the center of the Senate talks.

“That is an important part of it because otherwise we are smack down in the middle of next week and beyond,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Once the Senate passes the bipartisan deal, they are expected to move directly to the budget resolution, which sparks intense GOP opposition.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was in meetings with GOP leadership on Thursday. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said they were both talking with him about amendments he still wants to the bipartisan deal and “getting ready for the next thing.”

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