Outside of the Capitol Thursday night, a group of red state Democrats gathered to speak out about an upcoming must-pass spending bill they argue doesn’t do enough for miners.
With the Capitol lit behind them, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) – all up for re-election in 2018 in states Trump won– literally stood with the miners they were fighting for. It was a photo op for sure and the first opportunity red state Dems have had since the election to make an overt play for the white working class voters they lost to President-elect Trump.
Here’s the issue.
Congress has paved the way for a must-pass spending bill. Without it, the government runs out of money at midnight. The legislation easily passed in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate, there is a problem. Tucked in the legislation is a provision to extend health care benefits for miners and their widows, but it only funds the care for four months. Democrats want the benefits extended for a full year. And they want another measure to be added that requires all government-funded projects to be required to use American products like steel.
The “buy America” provision was initially included, but it was taken out by House leadership.
It’s the first time that Senate Democrats have made a high-profile play to win back some of the white, working class voters that came out and supported Trump in the election. They are hoping It might be a place where red state Democrats might be able to drive a wedge between Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump, who made buying American products and protecting coal miners a repeated refrain in the campaign.
“Give us the full year to fight another day. Four months doesn’t do a thing,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is also playing along. On Thursday night, Schumer was outside in the cold with his members who are facing election in 2018. It may be just the beginning of Schumer’s efforts to throw his more moderate members of his caucus a bone in an effort to protect his right flank.
It’s unclear exactly how far Democrats will be willing to go on this fight. While Manchin told the Washington Post earlier this week that he would be willing to shut down the government over it, other Democrats have been more coy about whether they’d be willing to go that far. At this point, the threat may be more of a negotiating chip than anything.