Senate Dems Threaten Government Shutdown Over Miners Benefits

Tom Williams

A must-pass spending bill hit a snag Thursday as some Senate Democrats are banding together against the legislation unless a year-long protection for miners health care benefits is included.

How exactly they plan to ensure the miner's get the benefits is still unclear.

The continuing resolution to fund the federal government until the end of April was expected to easily pass the House of Representatives Thursday as members were anxious to skip town and get back home for the holidays, but the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

The hold-up is over health care benefits for retired miners. The benefits help more than 20,000 coal miners and their widows. The current continuing resolution includes just a four-month extension of those benefits, and Democrats want to see more.

According to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Democrats left a caucus meeting Thursday afternoon in agreement that they would stand against any spending bill that did not include an extension of the benefits for at least a year.

"These mine workers are going to be worried going into Christmas that their health care ends on December 31st. We do four more months and they worry again in the first quarter of the year. That's not the way to live. None of us would want to live that way. Nobody wants to live that way," Brown said.

Democrats would not say if they planned to vote against cloture, the procedural vote that requires 60 votes for senators to get onto a bill. If Democrats did vote against cloture it could lead to a government shutdown.

"We haven't made a final decision on that," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters on the question of if Democrats would vote against cloture on the CR.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told the Washington Post, “I want to shut her down. I mean this is ridiculous. We need an extension to the CR until people come to their senses. You can’t throw 16,000 people out.”

Democrats also want to see a stronger "buy America" provision that requires that the U.S. government only funds projects that use American-made steel. The provision had been included, but was scrapped by House Republican leaders despite the fact that it's been a popular refrain from President-elect Donald Trump.

Complicating efforts is the fact that the House may try to skip town Thursday afternoon after their vote on the spending bill. If the bill is going to be changed later by the Senate, it may require the House to come back altogether or may require the use of a procedural maneuver to pass the bill by unanimous consent in their absence.

If Democrats really are as united as Brown says, it will be impossible for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass the continuing resolution without making changes. That could put the government on the verge of a shutdown. Brown indicated that Republican leaders might be interested in making a deal.

"I just talked to John Cornyn on the floor about it. He seems kind of open to the one year," Brown said.

Some of the GOP's own members have reservations about the current CR because of the miner's health insurance benefits. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said he was undecided on the bill. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said that she planned to vote against the CR if the health care benefits weren't extended past the four-month mark.

"I'm not satisfied with the four months. I'm gonna vote against the CR because of that, but whether we are running out of time and we have to live to fight another day in March or April, I think it's appearing as though that's what's going to happen," Capito said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK