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.


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 TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout 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 StabenowElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Republican Senate candidate apologizes after swastika spotted in campaign ad Poll: Dem Stabenow has 9-point lead over Republican James in Michigan Senate race 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 NelsonElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Poll: Nelson leads Scott by 6 points in Florida Senate race Poll: Nelson tied with Scott in Florida Senate race 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 ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen 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 MikulskiAthletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Will the Federal Reserve make a mistake by shifting to inflation? Sanders: Democrats ‘absolutely’ have chance to win back rural America  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.