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.

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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 McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure 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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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.  

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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 ManchinSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Sinema says she opposes .5T price tag for spending bill 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 Campbell BrownSchumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Ohio), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE (D-N.D.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act MORE (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGiuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri McCaskill shares new July 4 family tradition: Watching Capitol riot video Joe Manchin's secret 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine 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 Robert WarnerDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden 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 Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line 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.