Congress passes spending bill again at the last minute averts government shutdown

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Congress seems to love to create suspense and putting the government on the verge of a shutdown, this time, however, it was the Democrats fault as opposed to the Republicans. With an hour to spare on Friday evening, Dec. 9, 2016, Senate passed a 1.1 trillion stopgap spending bill funding the government until April 28, 2017. The bill passed 63–36 with Democrats representing the dissenting votes. Some Democrats threatened a shutdown over health care benefits for miners. The House passed the bill on Thursday, Dec. 9 with a vote of 326–96.

The legislation marks last major bill of the 114th Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was speaking of his first session helming the Senate on the floor, “This Congress, the Senate has passed nearly 300 bills, and nearly 200 of those are now law. But what really matters isn’t the number of bills passed, it’s what we can achieve on behalf of the American people. And by that standard, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our country.

Senate Democrats found were willing to risk a government shutdown over the bill, not including retirement benefits for retired coal miners and only a four-month extension of the health benefits rather than a full year. The problem the miners in Appalachian states receive their termination notice three months in advance, meaning they would receive their letters notifying them of the end of the healthcare in January.

Senators from coal mining states objected with Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia leading the charge. Additionally, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) followed with support. All are facing tough re-elections in the 2018 midterms in states President-elect and Republican Donald Trump won.

Manchin argued to change the bill on the Senate floor, “I rise today fighting for the working men and women that we all use in our commercials. Every one of us goes out and basically tries to attract working men and women to vote for us because we say we’re coming here to fight for you.”

McConnell argued that bill received bipartisan support in the House and since the house left for the end of session Christmas recess the government would shut down. The majority leader expressed on the Senate floor, “While some Senate Democrats may want to delay into a shutdown, House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected that approach.”

The rest of the Democrats including the incoming Minority Leader Charles Schumer, (D-NY) did not want to take a risk and shut down the government. As the midnight deadline neared Schumer indicated, “We’re not going to shut down the government. We’re going to keep it open. We’re going to provide the votes so we don’t shut down.”

Manchin did not have the 41 votes needed to block the bill, but he wanted to delay its passage. Speaking at a press conference, Manchin said, “I don’t think we’re gonna get to the 41 [votes] as of tonight, but we have support to take this fight on.” The tide turned when at 7 p.m. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) abandoned the effort declaring, “We are not going to shut down the government over this issue.” President Barack Obama signed the bill soon after the Senate passed it.

Now negotiations for omnibus spending bills for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year falls into the lap of the incoming President Donald Trump. Trump promised to cut the deficit by getting rid of the “tremendous waste, fraud and abuse.” The new Senate has a busy schedule confirming Trump’s cabinet and a new Supreme Court nominee; they wanted Trump to accept and continuing resolution for the entire year and avoid the 100-day crunch, but he did not want to wait.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. Ms Goodman is an expert in presidential campaigns and election history and she has been covering American elections as a journalist since 2004.

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