Shut­down averted, US Se­nate backs stop-gap spend­ing bill

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

With less than hour to spare, the Se­nate late Fri­day backed leg­is­la­tion avert­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down as coal-state Democrats re­treated on long-term health care ben­e­fits for re­tired min­ers and promised a re­newed fight for the work­ing class next year.

The 63-36 vote sent the stop-gap spend­ing bill to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who signed the mea­sure early yes­ter­day morn­ing. The Se­nate also passed and sent the pres­i­dent a $10 bil­lion water bill with money to re­spond to lead-tainted drink­ing water in Michi­gan and drought in Cal­i­for­nia. The vote was 78-21. The votes came hours af­ter Democrats dropped threats to block the spend­ing mea­sure in hopes of us­ing the shut­down dead­line to try to win a one-year respite for 16,500 min­ers fac­ing the loss of health care ben­e­fits at year’s end. In­stead, the leg­is­la­tion pro­vides ben­e­fits at a cost of $45 mil­lion for four months.

Democrats in­voked Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s prom­ises to coal coun­try as they pressed to con­tinue the ben­e­fits. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, a po­ten­tial mem­ber of the Trump Cab­i­net, led the fight of coal-state Democrats. But House Repub­li­cans were un­re­lent­ing and had al­ready va­cated the Capi­tol for a three-week hol­i­day, forc­ing Democrats to con­cede. Manchin ac­knowl­edged Fri­day night that he did not have the votes to block the bill, but said “the fight will con­tinue” next year.

“I’m born into a fam­ily of coal min­ers. If I’m not go­ing to stand up for them, who is?” he asked re­porters. Manchin was meet­ing with Trump on Mon­day.

The fight gave Democrats, who suf­fered dev­as­tat­ing elec­tion losses a month ago at the hands of work­ing-class vot­ers, a chance to cast them­selves and not the GOP as the cham­pi­ons of the com­mon man. Manchin was joined by other coal-state Democrats who face re-elec­tion in 2018 in states Trump won last month, in­clud­ing Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio.

“We’re just get­ting warmed up,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., vow­ing a fight next year. “These min­ers and their fam­i­lies kept their prom­ise, put their lives at risk . ... It’s not too dif­fi­cult for a se­na­tor or House mem­ber to keep a prom­ise.” The dis­pute over health ben­e­fits and a sep­a­rate fight over con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion to shift more of Cal­i­for­nia’s scarce water re­sources to in­land farm­ers were the fi­nal bat­tles of a two-year ses­sion marked by con­stant quar­rel­ing. It was capped by a burst of pro­duc­tiv­ity on leg­is­la­tion to au­tho­rize hun­dreds of water projects, re­pair Flint, Michi­gan’s lead-tainted water sys­tem, and keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning through April.

Congress will take a break be­fore re­con­ven­ing on Jan. 3 to get a swift start on re­peal­ing key el­e­ments of the Af­ford­able Care Act and con­firm­ing Trump’s Cab­i­net.

The un­der­ly­ing fund­ing bill would keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning through April 28 to buy time for the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress to wrap up more than $1 tril­lion in un­fin­ished agency bud­get work. It also pro­vides war fund­ing, dis­as­ter aid for Louisiana and other states, and an ex­pe­dited process for con­sid­er­ing Trump’s nom­i­nee for de­fense sec­re­tary, re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis.

The truck­ing lobby won per­ma­nent re­lief from re­cent Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment rules man­dat­ing more rest and overnight breaks for long-haul driv­ers. The White House and Main Street Repub­li­cans were de­nied in a bid to re­vive the Ex­port-Im­port Bank’s abil­ity to ap­prove ex­port fi­nanc­ing deals ex­ceed­ing $10 mil­lion. The min­ers’ issue had his­tory: 70 years ago, Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man guar­an­teed re­tired min­ers a life­time of health and pen­sion ben­e­fits to avert a strike.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky, said the four-month ex­ten­sion was bet­ter than noth­ing. McCon­nell him­self rep­re­sents thou­sands of min­ers in the strug­gling coal in­dus­try and said he tried to get a longer so­lu­tion in talks with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“Would I have pre­ferred that pro­vi­sion to be more gen­er­ous? Of course I would have,” the Repub­li­can said in a speech on the Se­nate floor. The House had left town on Thurs­day, cre­at­ing a dy­namic in which the Se­nate had lit­tle choice but to adopt the stop­gap mea­sure. Both the fund­ing mea­sure and a water projects bill passed there by sweep­ing bi­par­ti­san votes.

Demo­cratic op­po­nents of the pop­u­lar water projects bill, led by Sen Bar­bara Boxer, D-Cal­i­for­nia, as­sailed pro­vi­sions to di­vert more water to cor­po­rate farm­ers. The bill also au­tho­rizes long-de­layed fund­ing of $170 mil­lion to help Flint, Michi­gan, to fix its lead-tainted water sys­tem.

Democrats griped that GOP ne­go­tia­tors on the water bill dumped a per­ma­nent “Buy Amer­ica” pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing US-pro­duced steel be used in water projects. But that ef­fort lost steam Fri­day. The spend­ing bill also would pro­vide $7 mil­lion to re­im­burse the New York Po­lice De­part­ment for the cost of se­cu­rity around Trump Tower in Man­hat­tan, far less than the $35 mil­lion the city re­quested. —AP

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