Se­nate OKs stop­gap spend­ing bill to avert fed­eral shut­down.

Shut­down averted de­spite stand by coal-state Democrats

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

With a gov­ern­ment shut­down loom­ing, the Se­nate over­came a late stand by coal-state Democrats and passed a stop­gap spend­ing bill Fri­day that keeps fed­eral agen­cies run­ning un­til late April, clear­ing the way for Congress to skip town for the hol­i­days and pre­pare for a change of power in the new year.

Enough Democrats linked arms with Repub­li­cans to pass the spend­ing bill, 63-36, af­ter Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Vir­ginia and fel­low Democrats ef­fec­tively con­ceded de­feat in their late push for a year­long ex­ten­sion to coal work­ers’ health ben­e­fits, rather than a four-month re­newal.

“We never in­tended to shut down the gov­ern­ment,” said in­com­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, claim­ing that his party merely pushed the is­sue to the brink of a midnight dead­line to highlight the se­ri­ous­ness of the mat­ter.

Yet with the House al­ready gone for the year, Se­nate GOP lead­ers warned Democrats to ei­ther ac­cept the mea­sure as-is or take the blame for a fed­eral shut­down on Satur­day.

“This is a good time to take ‘yes’ for an an­swer,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can whose own state re­lies on the coal in­dus­try.

Democrats fac­ing re-elec­tion in 2018 also wanted to in­sert a “Buy Amer­ica” pro­vi­sion into a sep­a­rate wa­ter-projects bill, so that in­fra­struc­ture projects would be re­quired to use U.S.-made steel and iron. In re­marks lead­ing up to the vote, they said Repub­li­cans were un­der­min­ing pledges that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump made to blue-col­lar work­ers.

Yet their protests slowly be­gan to peter out Fri­day, as the threat of a shut­down be­came real.

Mr. Manchin, who had ral­lied with af­fected min­ers the prior evening, sud­denly can­celed a sec­ond press con­fer­ence at midday, while Sen. Bar­bara Boxer, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said the odds were stacked against her bid to block the wa­ter bill over Cal­i­for­nia-drought lan­guage she viewed as an as­sault on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions. That bill eas­ily passed the House, 360-61.

“I think the House vote was an in­di­ca­tion that the bill is so pop­u­lar. I wrote the darn thing — it’s too good,” she said out­side the Se­nate cham­ber. “If I lose this, it’ll be sad. But I also know the un­der­ly­ing bill has 26 fan­tas­tic projects for my state.”

She spoke out against the drought pro­vi­sions one last time, around midnight Fri­day, be­fore the Se­nate voted to pro­ceed with the wa­ter pack­age and then pass it, 78-21, as part of a sprint to fin­ish leg­isla­tive busi­ness in the wee hours.

The spend­ing bill, known in Capi­tol-speak as a “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion,” keeps most gov­ern­ment agen­cies op­er­at­ing at 2016 lev­els, but boosts de­fense spend­ing by some $8 bil­lion on an an­nu­al­ized ba­sis, hop­ing to keep up with ex­ten­sive U.S. mil­i­tary com­mit­ments over­seas.

It also pro­vides $4.1 bil­lion in new dis­as­ter relief and re­con­struc­tion money to take care of dam­age from hur­ri­canes, floods and se­vere drought, plus $170 mil­lion to ad­dress drink­ing wa­ter prob­lems, in­clud­ing lead-tainted wa­ter in Flint, Michi­gan.

It passed the House on Thurs­day, 326-96.

Congress passed only one of the dozen an­nual spend­ing bills it is sup­posed to ap­prove each year, leav­ing most agen­cies run­ning on stop­gap fund­ing since Oct. 1, which was the start of the fis­cal year.

The lat­est bill would keep gov­ern­ment open un­til April 28, buy­ing enough time for Mr. Trump to get his team up and run­ning be­fore Congress re­sumes its bud­get fights.

It in­cludes $7 mil­lion to re­im­burse law en­force­ment agen­cies for pro­tect­ing Mr. Trump in Man­hat­tan — only a fifth of New York of­fi­cials say it cost — and a con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion that would clear the way for re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis to be Mr. Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, de­spite only leav­ing the mil­i­tary in 2013.

The law re­quires at least seven years to have elapsed be­fore a re­tired mem­ber of the mil­i­tary can take over at the Pen­tagon. Repub­li­cans want to quickly ap­prove a waiver of the law next year, but could face an ex­ten­sive de­lay with Se­nate fil­i­busters. The new bill changes the usual de­bate rules, pre­serv­ing the 60vote thresh­old but lim­it­ing the amount of time a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster could last.

But it was a stand­off over min­ers’ ben­e­fits that emerged as the main stick­ing point, crys­tal­liz­ing into a shut­down threat by Thurs­day.

Mr. McCon­nell said the min­ers’ in­sur­ance would have ex­pired at the end of the month, rather than in April, if Congress hadn’t passed the spend­ing res­o­lu­tion, so coal-state law­mak­ers should prep for a new fight this spring.

“Would I have pre­ferred that pro­vi­sion to be more gen­er­ous? Of course I would have,” said Mr. McCon­nell.

He also nee­dled Democrats for tak­ing a stand for coal work­ers, say­ing their party’s ap­proach to en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy was dev­as­tat­ing the sec­tor.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, pressed coal-state Democrats to give up their stand over min­ers’ in­sur­ance and pass a stop­gap spend­ing bill to keep the fed­eral gov­ern­ment open un­til April 28.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, New York Demo­crat, said his party never in­tended to shut down the gov­ern­ment over the min­ers’ in­sur­ance.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.