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Senate Could Pass a $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill This Week, Even Though There's No Agreement on How To Pay for It

  Before the end of the week, the Senate may pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill, or the bipartisan effort to do so might co...

 Before the end of the week, the Senate may pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill, or the bipartisan effort to do so might completely unravel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) has called for a procedural vote on Wednesday to open debate on the infrastructure bill. It's a political gambit meant to apply pressure to Republican senators who agreed to support a smaller version of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden outlined in March, but that agreement now appears to be on thin ice.

"We shouldn't have an arbitrary deadline of Wednesday," Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio), who has led Republican negotiations over the infrastructure bill, told CNN on Sunday. As things stand right now, Schumer is "not going to get 60," Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R–S.D.) tells Politico—referring to the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture and foreclose the possibility of a Republican filibuster of the bill.

One major problem with voting to move the legislation along on Wednesday is that senators are unlikely to know what's in the final version of the bill until Thursday at the earliest.

Another stumbling block is a disagreement over how to pay for the $579 billion in new spending that's proposed as part of the overall $1.2 trillion package—roughly half of which would be covered by repurposing already-approved funds. The bipartisan agreement struck last month calls for beefing up IRS enforcement in order to close the so-called "tax gap," which are federal taxes owed but not paid, and raise $100 billion in new revenue. But some Republicans are (quite understandably) unhappy about the idea of expanding the federal tax cops' power, The Washington Post reports.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are also hoping to pass a $3.5 trillion budget plan before the end of the week. It's likely to move forward without any Republican support via the reconciliation process that allows a simple Senate majority to make changes to existing laws governing taxes and spending.

The two things could end up colliding, at least in part. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, suggested on Monday that parts of the infrastructure package could get rolled into the reconciliation bill if the bipartisan agreement falls apart. But even some of his fellow Democrats now seem to be hoping that it does.

It all adds up to another sadly typical example of how big-ticket items make their way through Congress, where the rules are mostly made up and the deficits don't matter. Voting for a bill before we know what's in it? Of course! Agreeing to spend money before we know how we'll pay for it? Naturally!

Much of the discourse surrounding the impending success or collapse of the infrastructure bill will focus on what it means for Biden's promise that he could bring both sides together to, in his words, do big things. But this week is really a test of how aggressively the Senate Democrats are willing to ram through yet another huge spending bill.

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