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Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama

The Hill
The Hill
 2021-07-30
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© Julia Nikhinson

The Senate voted on Friday to formally start debating a bipartisan infrastructure proposal after a last-minute snag briefly threw the chamber into chaos.

Senators voted 66-28 to start debate. Senators are using a shell bill that they intend to swap the bipartisan group’s legislation into once it is finished.

Sixteen GOP senators voted to start debate.

The vote had been expected to start around 11:30 a.m., but it was delayed for roughly an hour after a draft version of the bill floated around Capitol Hill and K Street sparked fierce GOP pushback.

Republicans and aides in both parties warned that the draft legislation in circulation didn’t reflect the bipartisan group’s agreement. But it still sparked worries from Republicans that Democrats were trying to jam them with an alternative version of the bill spearheaded by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

“There’s a version floating around downtown which is not the version we agreed upon,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a member of the bipartisan group, told reporters.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who voted to start debate, added that there was a “bogus copy” floating around with lobbyists.

A Democratic aide denied that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was trying to put forward an alternative, saying that the bipartisan agreement was always going to be what was ultimately debated by the Senate.

And Portman told reporters that Schumer had given him “personal assurances” that the bipartisan group’s agreement would be the bill that Senate ultimately debates.

But the backlash over the draft led Portman and Sinema to release a formal statement saying that the draft legislation, which was shared with reporters, wasn’t their bill.

“While various pieces of legislative text have been circulating among members, staff and the public for days, if not weeks, none of it is the final legislative text and should not be considered as such,” they said.

The bipartisan group is still working to finish drafting its bill after a last-minute issue cropped up around the broadband language.

“The 10 percent that’s outstanding we’re still working on,” Cassidy said.

Portman and Sinema added that they were “close” to finishing the bill and hoped to make text public as soon as Friday.

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