GOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems

GOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Democrats and Republicans are battling over whether aid for Flint, Mich., should be included in a government funding bill a week before a possible shutdown.

Republicans on Thursday presented what they said was a clean bill stripped of conservative policy riders, such as language blocking the administration from ceding authority over the internet, which had drawn objections from Democrats.

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The bill would provide $500 million in relief to flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland, fund the battle against the Zika virus and provide aid to communities dealing with opioid addition. But it does not include aid for the community of Flint, where residents can’t drink the tap water due to high levels of lead.

Democrats expressed outrage on Thursday and argued the stopgap is not in fact “clean” because of what they see as a politically motivated decision to help some areas of the country while ignoring Flint.

Republicans are trying to put Democrats in a corner.

They think if Democrats try to block the funding bill, they’ll get blamed for derailing legislation to keep the government operating, fight Zika and help thousands of displaced people in Louisiana.

Democrats say they’re getting jammed and vow to fight back.

With government funding set to expire on Oct. 1, it’s turning into a standoff over who will blink first.

And it’s all happening while most of the political world is gearing up for the first televised debate between presidential nominees Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPresenting the 2020 Democratic bracket The time has come for the Democrats to act, finally DHS expedites border wall replacement in Arizona, Texas MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe time has come for the Democrats to act, finally Mueller report may result in Russian sanctions but not better behavior Dem race shows signs it could get nasty MORE, which will take place Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

The Senate will vote at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday. If the motion fails, negotiators will have to resume work three days and a few hours away from a possible shutdown.

“The odds of a shutdown are much higher than they were before he filed the substitute,” a senior Democratic aide said of McConnell’s procedural maneuver.

The other context for the fight is the fierce battle for the Senate majority. Democrats need a net gain of five seats — or four and hold the White House — to retake the majority. Instead of going back to their states to campaign every day, senators will be back in Washington for a fourth week as they play yet another game of budgetary chicken.

McConnell on Thursday hailed the bill as a compromise that dropped several contentious policy riders opposed by Democrats.

“There have been broad requests for a clean continuing resolution. So that’s what I’ve just offered. It’s the result of many, many hours of bipartisan work across the aisle,” he said on the floor.

Democrats on Thursday predicted they would hold their ranks on Flint and defeat McConnell’s motion to advance the funding stopgap.

“I think it’s going to be very hard for them to get Democratic votes. We haven’t whipped everybody but certainly in our caucus [meeting] today there was nobody in the caucus that was voting for it,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE (D-Mich.).

Republicans calculate it will be hard to vote against legislation that addresses two major health crises: Zika and opioid addiction.

Their hopes were likely kindled when they saw an initial crack in the Democratic wall: Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFBI to brief Florida governor, senator on election hacking Trump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center MORE of Florida, who is up for reelection in 2018, announced he would vote yes.

“While I support the people of Flint, my priority is the people of Florida. This bill provides a clean $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika virus with no political riders, and I will support it,” he said in a statement.

Democrats have battled Republicans for months over federal aid to Flint, where a majority of the city’s residents are African-American.

Democrats are also upset that McConnell’s proposal does not reverse a policy rider included in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose political spending.

“He has a provision that protects businesses from having to disclose dark money they give in campaigns. That he thinks is important to have in there. Helping the people of Flint, 100,000 people who have been poisoned by lead poisoning, is not,” Stabenow added.

Republicans point out the language affecting the SEC was included in last year’s bill and is current law. A policy rider would have to be attached to this year’s funding measure to unwind it, they say. 

The last government shutdown happened in October of 2013, when House conservatives blocked a government-funding bill because it allowed the implementation of ObamaCare to go forward.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that the administration would follow standard procedure to ensure “orderly shutdown of the federal government based on the lack of congressional action.”

Republican and Democratic Senate sources said they expect a resolution will be reached next week but admitted there’s little room for error.

“There’s not going to be a government shutdown,” said a senior GOP aide.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems accuse White House of caving to Trump's 'ego' on Russian meddling 2020 Dems back repeal of controversial New Hampshire voting law New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (D-N.H.) also said she thought the prospect of one was highly unlikely.

Stabenow said Republicans have every incentive to keep the stalemate from getting out of control given the stakes in the election.

“I would think they would not want that as the party in charge. I wouldn’t think that would be a very smart thing for the majority party to want,” she said. “We have not been unreasonable.”

Republicans say the money for Flint can be allocated in the Water Resources Development Act, which recently passed the Senate.

But Democrats have balked at this path because House Republicans have not assured them of cooperation on the issue.

“The House has made no commitment to help Flint in that bill,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar Bottom Line MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) at his own press conference on Thursday said he backed including the Flint money in the water bill.

McConnell, meanwhile, argued the Republican proposal would take care of other important priorities.

“It’s a fair proposal that funds all current government operations through Dec. 9, while also providing funding for the new legislation we’ve just passed overwhelmingly and that the president has signed — that’s legislation to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic,” he said.