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 McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal 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 TrumpDNC calls for suspension of Kushner's security clearance amid FBI scrutiny Reporter assaulted by GOP candidate: Most 'surreal experience' of my career Lawyer: Kushner to cooperate on all probes of Russia meetings 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 ManchinJoe ManchinSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue 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 BrownOvernight Finance: Trump moves to begin NAFTA talks | Dems press Treasury chief on taxes, Dodd-Frank | Biz leaders want tax changes to be permanent Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank Sherrod Brown looks to defy Trump trend in Ohio MORE (D-Ohio), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Separating fact from fiction in the Regulatory Accountability Act MORE (D-N.D.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Dem lawmakers voice shock, outrage on Comey memo MORE (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Mnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored 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 CruzTed CruzGOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Cruz: Jokes about me in Franken's book 'obnoxious' The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 WarnerOvernight Tech: Twitter execs divided over Trump | Group asks FCC to delete fake net neutrality comments | Zuckerberg tells Harvard grads to fight 'forces of authoritarianism' Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel chiefs get subpoena power in Russia probe | Trump orders probe of leaks | Lawmaker unveils 'hacking back' bill Senate Intel heads get broad subpoena power in Russia probe 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 MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? 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.