Senate Dems hold out on spending deal, risking shutdown

Senate Democrats are holding out on backing a bill to keep the government funded through April 28, risking a government shutdown that would begin on Saturday.

Democrats may still back the funding measure, but a demand to extend miners’ health care coverage for a full year is holding up a deal.


The House easily approved the legislation Thursday afternoon, but without an agreement. the Senate can’t take an initial vote until Saturday at 1 a.m. Government funding is due to run out at the end of the day Friday. 

Democratic objections are led by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE of West Virginia and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownPollster says current 2020 surveys like picking best picture Oscar before movies come out Shep Smith: Signing funding bill is a 'loss' for Trump no matter how it's packaged Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE of Ohio, who are both up for reelection in 2018 in states carried by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE.

They want to extend expiring healthcare benefits for retired coal miners for at least a year. The current bill would extend the benefits for retired miners for four months, to coincide with the expiration of broader government funding April 28.

“Everybody in the caucus is insisting on demanding those two things and working to get the Republicans to agree: Buy America and one year [of health benefits] for the miners,” Brown told reporters Tuesday.

“The bill that they have put in front of us that the House of Representatives has given us, it is this horrendous and it is inhumane,” Manchin said late Thursday afternoon. “Someone says, ‘Oh, the House has left.’ I’m sorry that they were inconvenienced and had to leave early go to home for Christmas.” 

While Democrats broadly support the provisions demanded by Brown and Manchin, they are undecided on whether to block or delay the funding measure to increase their leverage, leery of risking a temporary government shutdown.

Manchin and centrist Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Steel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Drama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry MORE (D-Va.) met with incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall Trump says he 'didn't need to' declare emergency but wanted 'faster' action MORE (N.Y.) to discuss their strategy going forward. 

Asked whether Senate Democrats are unified behind the idea of blocking the funding stopgap, a senior Senate Democratic aide said, “We’ll see.”

Schumer also directed questions about their strategy to Manchin as he was leaving the meeting. 

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together MORE (R-Texas) argued that Manchin and Brown got a major concession and should be “grateful” that GOP leaders added the four-month extension of miners’ health care benefits.

“If I were Sen. Manchin, I would say I’m glad we got something for my miners in the bill and I’m going to keep working on getting more,” he said.

He said Manchin and Brown may be able to keep the Senate in session over the weekend — possibly causing a brief government shutdown — but he predicted Republicans would have enough votes to pass both the continuing resolution and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

"The irony is they can't really accomplish the goal they set out for themselves. They can keep us here a little longer, but we'll go ahead and grind through the clock till Monday if we need to to get it done," Cornyn added, referring to both bills, which he wants to pass before adjourning the 114th Congress.

He also suggested Manchin’s hardball tactics would undercut lawmakers’ willingness to work with him on the miners’ healthcare and a separate pension fund next year. 

"By sort of making everybody mad, and keeping everybody here a long time, it doesn't strike me as a way to get a lot of cooperation," he said.

Senate Republican leadership is showing no signs they are willing to cave in the fight. 

A Senate GOP aide on Thursday said the Appropriations Committee remained firm on the bill's current language for the miner program. 

But Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, is signaling he’ll stay in town in case the Senate makes changes. 

With less than 36 hours until a government shutdown, Democrats are hedging their bets on whether they will ultimately block the CR. 

"What everybody is hoping is that we'll find a longer-term solution for women who have lost their husbands," Heitkamp told reporters after a meeting with Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Klobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment Dems wary of killing off filibuster MORE's office. 

"We hope we'll be able to get relief and be able to deliver a Christmas present to the most sympathetic working people in America." 

Both sides are also busy spinning who will be to blame if they blow Friday's deadline. 

Cornyn said Democrats would be seen as responsible if "truth and justice" prevailed. 

But Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Kaine asks Shanahan if military families would be hurt by moving .6B for border wall Clinton on GOP promoting Trump 'stronger together' quote: Now copy my policies too MORE (D-Va.) told reporters that "if Republicans want to shut it down, they will. They run the thing." 

"We are all very committed that we need to find healthcare for miners and widows for a year," he said. Asked whether he was voting against cloture, Kaine shot back: "I didn't say that.”

Both Brown and Manchin met with coal miners Thursday amid the stalled fight. 

“Right now almost every one of these retirees and widows have gotten a notice earlier this month or late November that your healthcare is running out in December,” Brown told a group from Zanesville, Ohio.

“If you do the four-month [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] proposal, they’ll get another notice in probably January, maybe February, saying your healthcare is going to run out,” he said, referring to the provision currently in the funding bill.

– Updated at 5:22 p.m.