Senate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are digging in their heels over health benefits for miners in a government funding bill, raising the risk of a shutdown at midnight on Friday.

“We’re going to win this fight. We cannot predict the path, but we’re going to win this fight because we’re right,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the incoming Democratic leader.

Schumer, as well as Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va), Bob Casey (Pa.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Mark Warner (Va.), held a press conference with coal miners as they sought to ramp up the pressure on Republicans to strike a deal. 

Democrats are holding up the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government as they push to include a one-year extension of healthcare for thousands of miners and their families. The spending measure now includes a four-month extension. 

Absent a deal, the earliest the Senate could take an initial vote on the CR would be Saturday morning, meaning Congress would blow past the deadline to fund the government. 

Schumer brushed aside questions about whether he had gotten any indication from Republicans that they were open to a deal, directing reporters to GOP leadership. 

Lawmakers could pass a stopgap spending measure that lasts only a few days to prevent the government from shutting down over the weekend.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) floated this week that they might need a bill lasting only a few days, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday that the Senate could pass a measure as a “worst-case” scenario.

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

Democrats showed no signs of caving on Thursday. They insisted the longer extension for miners could still be added to the CR even after the spending measure easily cleared the House on Thursday afternoon.

“All we’re asking is for us to do what we said we would do,” Manchin said. “This is something we thought we had worked out.”

When a reporter questioned what happened if the House were no longer in session to vote on another CR, the West Virginia Democrat responded that “skeletons” have voted before.

Schumer also appealed during the press conference to President-elect Donald Trump, who touted his support for miners during the campaign, to weigh in on the Senate fight. 

Senate Republican leaders are publicly planning to try to call Manchin’s bluff.

A Senate GOP aide said earlier Thursday that the Appropriations Committee remains committed to the current language in the CR. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also teed up the spending bill on Thursday, noting the House vote.  

The House passed the CR, which would fund the government through April, earlier Thursday in a 326-96 vote. Most members of the chamber have left town for the holiday recess. 

Cornyn predicted Republicans would be able to break the Democratic filibuster on Saturday if needed. 

He argued that Manchin and Brown should be “grateful” for the four-month extension. 

“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. 

Cornyn added that, with a longer deal on miners’ pension and healthcare needing to be worked out next year, Manchin was making it less likely his Senate colleagues would be willing to work with him.  

“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.

Manchin and other Democrats up for reelection in 2018, as well as Schumer, downplayed the chances for a shutdown, stressing it was up to Republicans to come back to the table.  

“This is not a shutdown issue,” Manchin said. “There’s no reason to even speak about shutdowns.”  

Heitkamp added to reporters after the press conference that they shouldn’t “assume” there would be a shutdown.  

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

Manchin demurred when asked if they have the 41 votes needed to block the continuing resolution, but said they have a “strong commitment” from the caucus. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said that the caucus is “very committed that we need to find healthcare for miners and widows for a year.” 

But asked if that meant he would help block cloture, Kaine shot back: “I didn’t say that.”

Tags Bob Casey Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Joe Manchin John Cornyn Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Sherrod Brown Tim Kaine

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