Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is betting on a hard-driving strategy to get the government funding bill over the finish line before the Oct. 1 deadline, but defections from his own party and objections from Democrats could mean the Senate may run out the clock before a must-pass spending bill is finished next week.
As negotiations over the continuing resolution slowed this week, McConnell took matters into his own hands, presenting legislation that included some provisions Democrats wanted, but leaving out others they had warned would need to be included to earn their votes.
Suddenly, a rather benign negotiation, free of the government shutdown threats that have marked the last six years of budget battles, has been blown up. The chances of a government shutdown are still slim, but rising. Earlier this week, Democrats and Republicans were getting along well enough to move forward a legislative vehicle for the spending bill – think: placeholder – even though it was still unclear what the final deal would look like. Democratic aides had pointed to it as an act of good faith. And even as Republicans blasted Democrats for trying to keep them in Washington longer in order to keep them from the campaign trail back home, there was a sense that things were moving forward.
That all changed Thursday when McConnell announced his plan, catching angry Democrats off guard.
McConnell’s spending bill – which cannot be amended because McConnell filled the amendment tree– included many things Democrats had fought for. It has a pre-negotiated and bipartisan package to fight Zika. It does not include any provision to block the transfer of ICANN as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had wanted. ICANN is an internet domain service that is slated to be transferred from the US control to an international body in October.
But Democrats are irritated that McConnell included funding for flooding victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland, but didn’t include any emergency funding for Flint, Michigan – a majority African-American community, which is still reeling from a lead-in-drinking-water crisis.
In a statement Thursday, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) blasted the majority leader’s decision not to include funding for Flint.
“Today’s government funding proposal from Senate Republicans is unacceptable. Help for Flint is fully paid for and just passed with 95 votes in the Senate,” Stabenow said. “There’s no reason we cannot include urgently needed funding for Flint — as well as for Louisiana — in the funding bill. Flint families have waited long enough.”
Other Democrats – including Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) signaled McConnell had overplayed his hand Thursday and Democrats wouldn’t be voting for his bill.
“The majority leader has filed a Republican-only bill,” Mikulski said, according to a report from the Huffington Post. “We Democrats cannot vote for that.”
But McConnell was also facing defections from those in his own ranks. Some conservatives have long said they wouldn’t vote for a continuing resolution at all on principle. Other members like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had their own personal reasons for not wanting to back McConnell’s plan. Graham wanted the continuing resolution to include changes to the Export-Import Bank that would have allowed the bank to approve larger loans without a quorum. McConnell left that out. And, Graham told Politico he wouldn’t vote for the CR.
The Senate will return Tuesday, Sept. 27 for a procedural vote on McConnell’s bill, but without 60 votes (which seems fairly unlikely at this point), the Senate may have to find yet another path forward. Meanwhile, the House is in a holding pattern and the clock is ticking toward Oct. 1.