Senate Democrats relent: vote to avoid government shutdown

Facing a midnight deadline to fund the government, Senate Democrats backed down on a year's extension of a coal miners' health insurance extension and voted to keep the government going until April.

The thorny insurance issue had been holding up the funding bill for weeks, as Democrats insisted that the bill include the full-year extension rather than funding the insurance benefits for miners through April.  But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that the Senate would return to the issue in April, and that convinced other coal state Democrats to vote for the short-term funding extension.


Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio led the charge from coal state Democrats, and they declined to say explicitly whether they would use Senate procedure to force a brief shutdown over their demands for a yearlong insurance extension.

But several of those Democrats, including Manchin, had agreed earlier on Thursday that they would not shut down the government but would use the shutdown threat to bring attention to the miners’ plight and continue the fight in January, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting.

At a news conference after his colleagues relented, Manchin conceded that the party hadn’t had enough votes to defeat the spending bill.

“I don’t think we’re gonna get to the 41 [votes] as of tonight, but we have support to take this fight on,” Manchin said.

Given the lack of appetite among Democrats to force a shutdown over the matter, Republicans were unmoved by the opposition’s threats. Early Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the only solution is for coal-state Senate Democrats to take “yes for an answer,” as a bloc of Democratic senators continued fighting the short-term government funding measure.

The issue was serious enough for Manchin that he postponed a planned meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Friday. Manchin, who is reportedly in the mix for a Cabinet position for the incoming administration, will now meet with Trump on Monday, a spokesman for the senator said.

Before Friday night’s resolution, Manchin had insisted that Democrats would settle for nothing less than a yearlong extension of health-care benefits for those miners. But McConnell told POLITICO they will have to settle for what they have now and continue the fight in 2017.

“The difficulty here is they are having a hard time taking yes for an answer. I represent a lot of coal miners, I’m concerned about this issue. I had hoped we’d get a year. But we’ve got until the end of April to get at it again,” McConnell said in an interview on Friday — a point he stressed on the Senate floor later that morning.

This was just a skirmish. The war will come in the lead-up to April, when new president Donald Trump starts putting his imprint on the budget.  Taxes personal and business immigration, and health insurance reform will top the agenda, and you can expect hand-to-hand combat before anything is resolved.

Democats could hardly call the Republicans obstructionists for eight years and then refuse to fund the government.  McConnell had all the cards and forced the Democrats to cave on the insurance issue. 

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