Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears
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Democrats are digging in for one final 2016 fight as lawmakers face a looming deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Senate Democrats are signaling they're willing to play hardball with the continuing resolution (CR), which is expected to be released Tuesday evening.

"There's no reason we can't pass the CR, but it can't be passed with all of this unrelated stuff on it and stuff that does more harm than good," Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE told reporters.


Democrats are targeting two provisions: a Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer tees up key Thursday vote on debt deal House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE-backed extension of healthcare for coal miners that would last until the CR expires in April and a GOP push to use the spending measure to ease Gen. James Mattis’s nomination to be Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE’s Pentagon chief.

McConnell announced Tuesday morning that he was “insisting” the spending bill include a fix for miners and their families, who would lose their healthcare benefits at the end of the year without congressional action. 

But Democrats, who have threatened to gum up the Senate until they get a deal, panned the offer. They want five years of funding for the healthcare benefits.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin warns about inflation as Democrats pursue Biden spending bill Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families MORE (D-W.Va.) indicated a short-term extension wasn’t enough for him to drop his opposition to block any bill from getting fast-tracked through the Senate through unanimous consent.

“I’ve been here for six years. I’ve never put a hold on anything,” he told reporters. “Everyone is wanting to get out of here, wants to go home for Christmas — I'm sorry, no.”

Democratic leadership said Tuesday that Manchin has widespread support throughout the caucus.

"He has the backing of many Democratic senators who feel that he has been patient to a fault," said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Demand Justice launches ad campaign backing Biden nominee who drew GOP pushback MORE (D-Ill.), comparing a short-term fix to McConnell’s “war on coal miners or their widows.”

House leaders including Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) have also long voiced support for the coal miners’ benefits – which was nearly included in last year’s spending deal but scrapped at the last minute. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who leads health spending for the committee, told The Hill he would be “very open” to including the benefits in the CR.    

The tough talk comes as McConnell will need the agreement of every senator to clear the short-term funding bill through the upper chamber by Friday night’s funding deadline, giving Democrats leverage to try to get a better deal.

Plans to release the CR on Tuesday afternoon slipped as House lawmakers signaled they were still ironing out final details of the bill.

Appropriations committee aides said Tuesday that the coal miners’ funding as well as the Mattis provision were among the last-minute hold-ups. 

“There’s a few items that we’re making progress on,” Rogers said. “I fully expect we’ll have the bill ready to file tonight and go to Rules tomorrow.”

House Appropriations spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told The Hill that the CR would stick to the $1.07 trillion spending amount set by President Obama and top Republicans last year. The bill would fund the government through April 28.

It also includes a $10 billion boost to defense spending, new money for major health initiatives and $170 million in help for the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis, Hing said.

GOP leadership voiced optimism heading into the week that they would be able to wrap up work and leave Washington for the year by Friday. 

But Durbin warned that absent a deal, lawmakers could need to pass a short-term funding extension to give them extra time to grind through the Senate’s procedural hurdles during the weekend or early next week. 

"If the ordinary course of events take place in the Senate we're not going to have it done by Friday night, which means there needs to be an extension absent an agreement," the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat said

Republicans indicated that as of Tuesday evening they were still hashing out if they would link Mattis to the funding bill. 

Mattis retired in 2013. Current rules require a retired service member to have been out of the military for at least seven years before filling the Pentagon's senior civilian position unless Congress approves a waiver.

Several House Republican on the Armed Services Committees are privately voicing their objections to the provision, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.

“It has nothing to do with Gen. Mattis. It’s got to do with the law and precedent; we haven’t this since 1950,” McSally, the nation’s first female combat pilot, told The Hill. “It’s got to have the thoughtful consideration of the meaning of the law, civilian control of the military, and why and when exceptions should be made.”

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Bob Dole: A great leader of the 'Greatest Generation' The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns MORE (R-Ariz.), the Armed Services chairman, blasted Democrats for threatening to slow walk Mattis, while noting he isn’t insisting the exception get included in the funding bill.

"If we could get an agreement from them to take up the waiver for Mattis immediately then it wouldn't be necessary, but they haven't given us that assurance which is disgraceful," he told reporters.

One potential fix would be to decrease the number of years Mattis has to have been retired. 

Democrat Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) told The Hill on Tuesday that they oppose including a waiver-related provision. Durbin noted that the view is widely shared among the caucus. 

"I wouldn't say it's universal, but I will tell you a strong majority of the Democrats think it's a big mistake," he said.

Asked if Democrats would risk a shutdown, Murphy pointed to Republicans, saying they are "risking a shutdown by loading up the CR."

Lawmakers could wait and take up the waiver next year but Democrats are pledging to enforce a 60-vote requirement. The move would Mattis the only Cabinet nominee they could potentially filibuster.

McConnell brushed off a question about if Democrats could give Trump’s nominees the “Garland treatment,” referring to the GOP refusal to give President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing or a vote. 

“Well, as a result of what our colleagues on the other side of the aisle did in 2013, there's not a whole lot they can do,” he told reporters. “And I'm sure they'll try to make it as difficult as possible.”

-- Scott Wong contributed