Senate Democrats Retreat, Help Pass Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

Senate Democrats, digging in their heels Friday over health benefits for retired coal miners, threatened to shut down the government over the weekend for lack of a short-term spending agreement by a midnight deadline.

“ We’re not going to shut down the government.”— @SenSchumer

But Democrats gave in Friday evening, saying they would fight on in the new year but not be held responsible for shutting down the government.

“We’re not going to shut down the government. We’re going to keep it open,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the incoming minority leader, said several hours before the Senate voted 63-36 to pass the stopgap spending bill just before 11 p.m.

The House had voted overwhelmingly Thursday, 326-96, to pass the bill to keep the government running through April 28, when Donald Trump will have been in the White House for more than three months.

In the Senate, however, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., led a fight to secure a one-year extension of health benefits for the retired miners, rather than the four months provided by the short-term measure lawmakers call a continuing resolution.

“We need to bring attention to the people who have done the work. They’re forgotten heroes,” Manchin said at one point.

Manchin and other Democrats said they would vote against the spending bill, but it went on to clear the Senate late Friday night with 13 Republicans also voting no.

Manchin, reportedly under consideration for secretary of energy or another post in the Trump administration, postponed a scheduled Friday meeting with the president-elect until Monday so that he could make his case to fellow senators.

The new fiscal year began Oct. 1, but both chambers in late September approved a resolution funding the government through Dec. 9 at the current $1.07 trillion level. That deal was set to expire at midnight as Friday became Saturday.

Generally, the new short-term spending measure continues current funding while providing additional money for specific defense, disaster relief, and health care initiatives.

Trump’s transition team last month called for Congress to pass the stopgap spending measure until lawmakers could take up budget matters in the weeks after Trump is sworn in as president Jan. 20.

Trump Wants a Short-Term Spending Package. Will Congress Back Him?

In the House, conservatives such as Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., argued that the continuing resolution should not be a standard mode of operation.

“It is my sincere hope that our final vote of 2016 is not indicative of how we will operate in 2017,” @RepMarkWalker says.

“Though this outcome was preferable to a larger, long-term spending bill, it is my sincere hope that our final vote of 2016 is not indicative of how we will operate in 2017,” Walker said in a prepared statement Thursday after the House vote.

Walker was one of 33 Republicans to vote no before the House adjourned and lawmakers went home for the Christmas holidays.

“This bill is a far cry from how our government should be funded and what priorities should be appropriated,” he said.

Conservatives pointed to gimmicks passed in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill, which mean that keeping the current spending level requires an extra $10 billion above the budge cap for fiscal year 2017.

Lawmakers especially focused on several key areas of policy, among them:

Anti-Terror Operations

The continuing resolution allocates $10.1 billion for what the Obama administration calls “overseas contingency operations,” a supplemental fund that provides money to the Pentagon and State Department related to fighting terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere abroad.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the continuing resolution didn’t adequately support the needs of the military.

Those who supported a short-term spending bill are “harming the military and will do great damage to the military and our ability to defend the nation,” McCain told reporters last month.

21st Century Cures Act

The continuing resolution includes $872 million for the 21st Century Cures Act, designed to expedite the drug-approval procedures of the Food and Drug Administration.

It eventually would earmark “billions to the National Institutes of Health, in part to combat cancer and invest in precision medicine,” Politico reported.

Disaster Relief

The spending bill provides $4.1 billion in relief for disaster areas, including funding for repairs to U.S. Highway 34 in Colorado after a flood in 2013. It includes $170 million for Flint, Michigan, where a public health crisis continues following lead contamination of the city’s drinking water.

Mattis Waiver

The bill includes a waiver of existing law requiring that any member of the military must be retired for seven years before becoming secretary of defense.

This waiver is designed to allow Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to be nominated and confirmed even though he has been retired for only three years.

Export-Import Bank

Notably, the continuing resolution did not contain a provision designed to prop up the Export-Import Bank, a significant victory for conservatives who want to pull the plug on the government bank that provides loans and loan guarantees for foreign buyers of U.S. goods.

Currently, only two of Ex-Im’s five board seats are filled and, because of the vacancies, the bank’s supporters wanted Congress to change the bank’s quorum rules. This would allow Ex-Im to again approve loans of more than $10 million.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said the move would be “completely inappropriate,” as one board member could be responsible for allocating millions of dollars in loans.

Commentary: Short-Term Spending Bill: The Good and the Bad

The use of a continuing resolution to keep the government running remains distasteful to many conservative lawmakers because they say it ignores problems that deserve immediate attention and action.

“A continuing resolution is nothing different than taking last year’s appropriations bills, just changing the date on it and moving it over to this year, so it doesn’t address the areas of overspending, it doesn’t surgically go in and be able to change things like an appropriations bill does,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.,  said Thursday in an interview with C-SPAN.

The Oklahoma Republican said he believes the short-term spending bill is a vehicle for neglecting to solve inevitable problems.

“A continuing resolution, or a CR as it is often called here in D.C., just takes out [the spending level for] last year, [and] moves it over to this year, regardless of the things that have been discovered that were problems in the last year or regardless of new priorities that we may have for the coming year,” Lankford said.

Besides Lankford and McCain, Senate Republicans voting no were Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah,  Rand Paul of Kentucky, David Perdue of Georgia, and James Risch of Idaho.

A 14th Republican, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, did not vote.

Manchin, Schumer, and 20 other Democrats also voted no, as did Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, an Independent.

The office of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee and Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, noted that Congress has failed to pass a budget in six of the past 10 years.

Aides to Price, who did not vote on the stopgap spending bill, tweeted out a chart reminding Americans that in 18 of the past 20 years, Congress relied on a yearlong continuing resolution or omnibus spending bill to fund the government rather than the regular appropriations process:

Ken McIntyre contributed to this report, which has been updated to reflect the Senate vote and other developments.

Source material can be found at this site.

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