Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Friday advanced legislation to fund the federal government until April 28, setting up a vote on final passage of the bill, which would avert a government shutdown with less than two hours to spare.

The measure advanced by a vote of 61-38 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. 

Senators are expected to pass it in a final vote later Friday night.

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The legislation marks the final major business of the 114th Congress and caps the first two years of Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Hoyer says Dec. 15 is drop-dead deadline to hike debt ceiling MORE’s (R-Ky.) tenure as Senate majority leader. 

The measure, which passed the House earlier in the week, sets up a spending fight within President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race 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.” 

Republican senators, including members of the leadership, had hoped Trump would accept a yearlong omnibus spending bill or a yearlong stopgap funding resolution to clear the decks for 2017 for other legislative priorities, such as tax reform and a healthcare initiative to replace ObamaCare. 

The four-month funding bill was initially expected to pass easily after it won the early support of leaders on both sides of the aisle, but it was nearly derailed by a group of Democrats facing reelection in 2018 from coal-mining states carried by Trump. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSchumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Overnight Health Care — Biden touts drug price push Biden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote MORE (D-W.Va.), who faces a tough race in 2018 in a state Trump won with 68 percent of the vote, led a last-ditch effort to convince Democratic colleagues to vote against the spending bill because it included only a four-month extension of health benefits for retired miners. 

Manchin was joined by Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Powell says Fed will consider faster taper amid surging inflation Biden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick MORE (D-Ohio), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampVirginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight MORE (D-N.D.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenators urging federal investigation into Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims Crucial talks on Biden agenda enter homestretch Senate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents MORE (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Mo.), who also face reelection in pro-Trump states in 2018.

While they lobbied their colleagues vigorously, 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 CruzGOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective Democrats see Christmas goal slipping away MORE (R-Texas). 

Manchin and his allies pushed Republican leaders to amend the stopgap to include a yearlong extension of miners’ health benefits but made little progress. 

McConnell argued the legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House with bipartisan margins and noted that lawmakers on the other side of the Capitol had already left town, effectively quashing the chances of a renegotiation. 

It became clear early Friday that Manchin didn’t have the 41 votes he needed to block the bill indefinitely, but he still could have forced a temporary shutdown by raising procedural objections that could have delayed a vote until Saturday or Sunday. 

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The drama ended earlier in the evening when Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats see Christmas goal slipping away Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Liberty University professor charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of student 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, including parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and other storms. 

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.