Democrats tamp down talk of shutdown
Senate Democrats took a step back from their aggressive stance on a short-term funding resolution Friday morning which had raised fears of a government shutdown over the weekend.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he has spoken with Democratic colleagues who are angry the funding resolution does not include more aid for retired miners and said they want to make a point, not shutter federal agencies.
“I’ve talked to [Sen.] Joe Manchin [D-W.Va.] and others. What we’re trying to do is to make it clear that we think it should be more than several months. I don’t believe that there’s an appetite for shutting down the government,” Durbin, whose home state includes large swathes of coal country, told reporters Friday morning.
Manchin and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), who are both up for reelection in 2018 in states President-elect Donald Trump carried by large margins, have fought against the stopgap bill because it includes only a four-month extension of expiring health benefits for retired miners and their widows.
Manchin and Brown want a yearlong extension of the health benefits in the bill. They also want to add a “Buy America” provision in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that would require water infrastructure projects to use American steel.
When asked whether 41 Democrats would vote against the funding stopgap and risk a shutdown, Durbin said he didn’t know and declined to say how he would vote.
Manchin and Brown, however, could cause funding to expire for a few days by refusing to cooperate on requests to speed up the time required to clear procedural hurdles on the floor. They could delay a vote on the funding measure until Sunday.
Durbin downplayed the impact on federal agencies if funding were to expire for a few days.
“Historically, there’s been a bit of a grace period when this happens. I hope we don’t reach that point. I hope we can find a way to avoid it,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaking on the floor Friday morning noted that large numbers of Democrats in the House voted for both the continuing resolution (CR) and the water bill.
“While some Senate Democrats may want to delay into a government shutdown, House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected that approach,” he said.
He made the point that Manchin and Brown are unlikely to get an extension of miners’ health benefits or other additional concessions because the House has already adjourned for the year. He said Manchin and Brown were more likely to imperil the fourth-month extension of benefits they already won.
“We should pass the CR without delay because if we don’t pass the CR, the health benefits will go away at the end of this month. The House is gone,” he said.