Senate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Friday passed legislation to fund the federal government until April 28, avoiding a government shutdown by less than an hour.

The measure passed 63-36 after a group of disgruntled Democrats backed away from their threats to block or delay the funding measure because of a dispute over healthcare benefits for retired miners. 

President Obama signed the bill in the early morning hours Saturday, the White House said in a statement.

The legislation marks the final major business of the 114th Congress and caps the first two years of Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE’s (R-Ky.) tenure as Senate majority leader.  

“This Congress, the Senate has passed nearly 300 bills, and nearly 200 of those are now law,” McConnell said on the floor before the vote. “But what really matters isn’t the number of bills passed, it’s what we can achieve on behalf of the American people. And by that standard, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our country.” 

The bill, which passed the House earlier in the week, sets up a spending fight next year within President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE’s first 100 days in office that will test his promise to cut deeply into the federal deficit by eliminating what he calls “tremendous waste, fraud and abuse.” 

Senators will have to reach an agreement by late April on spending levels for the rest of fiscal year 2017 while juggling the confirmations of various executive branch nominees and perhaps a Supreme Court nominee. They will also be working on regulatory reform and a budget to pave the way for tax reform. 

Republican senators, including members of the leadership, had hoped Trump would instead accept a yearlong omnibus spending bill or a yearlong stopgap funding resolution to clear the decks for 2017 for those other priorities.  

Any deep cuts to social programs pushed by Trump next year, or increases in defense spending not matched by increases in domestic spending, are likely to draw staunch opposition from Democrats.  

The four-month funding bill that passed Friday evening was initially expected to sail through the Senate after it won the early support of leaders on both sides of the aisle. Things took a turn, however, when a group of Democrats facing reelection in 2018 from coal-mining states began voicing loud objections. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D) of West Virginia, who faces a tough race in 2018 in a state Trump carried with 68 percent of the vote, led a last-ditch effort to convince Democratic colleagues to vote against the funding bill because it included only a four-month extension of health benefits for miners. 

He was joined by Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE (D-Ohio), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate rejects Trump immigration plan Cramer to announce North Dakota Senate run on Friday Senate Democrats not sold on bipartisan immigration deal MORE (D-N.D.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems hit stock buybacks in tax law fight Dem senator warns Mueller against issuing Russia report near 2018 election Dem praises gay US Olympian who feuded with Pence MORE (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mo.), who all have tough reelection battles in pro-Trump states in 2018. 

They wanted to amend the stopgap to include a yearlong extension of benefits but made little progress. 

They lobbied their colleagues vigorously, but other Democrats didn’t want to risk even a temporary government shutdown. 

Many of them viewed using the threat of a shutdown as leverage as a distasteful tactic associated with firebrand conservative Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas).  

McConnell pushed back against Manchin by arguing the legislation had passed overwhelmingly in the House with bipartisan support. He noted that House lawmakers had already left town, effectively quashing the chances of a renegotiation. 

“While some Senate Democrats may want to delay into a shutdown, House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected that approach,” he said, pointing out the bill includes funding for troops in Afghanistan and other popular priorities.

Manchin argued that by extending miners’ benefits for only four months, lawmakers were giving short shrift to the working-class families they extolled during this year’s campaign.  

“I rise today fighting for the working men and women that we all use in our commercials. Every one of us goes out and basically tries to attract working men and women to vote for us because we say we’re coming here to fight for you,” he said on the floor. 

It became clear earlier Friday that Manchin didn’t have the 41 votes he needed to block the bill indefinitely. He still, however, could have forced a temporary government shutdown by raising procedural objections to delay it until Saturday or Sunday. 

The drama ended around 7 p.m. Friday evening when Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Mueller indictment reveals sophisticated Russian manipulation effort GOP cautious, Dems strident in reaction to new indictments MORE (D-Va.), who joined Manchin and other Democrats on the floor to criticize the continuing resolution, conceded, “We are not going to shut down the government over this issue.”

The measure includes $170 million to overhaul the infrastructure of communities with contaminated drinking water, such as Flint, Mich., where lead-tainted water became a national scandal earlier this year.  

It also includes $4.1 billion in disaster relief to rebuild areas inundated by floods caused by Hurricane Matthew and other storms, including parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

More than $870 million in the measure goes to fund the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill designed to spur medical research.  

The Cures bill passed both chambers recently and has the support of Vice President Joe Biden, whose “moonshot” project to “eliminate cancer as we know it” would receive funding.  

Shortly before final passage, Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, praised the legislation for funding the repair of water infrastructure in Flint and the treatment of opioid addition. She noted that Democrats kept it free of poison-pill riders.

“I’m just sorry that it only funds the government to April,” she said.