Senate Democrats threaten government shutdown at midnight tonight

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

The U.S. Senate returns to work on this Friday facing a classic late year political skirmish over a stop gap budget bill, as several Democrats are threatening to block action on the must-pass measure, which could force a shutdown of the federal government over the weekend.

With the House already gone for the year, a group of Senate Democrats are demanding late legislative changes in a temporary budget plan on provisions dealing with benefits for retired coal miners; there are also disputes simmering over a major water resources measure that was approved by the House.

At issue in the "Continuing Resolution" is a provision that extends - to the end of April - healthcare and pension benefits for over 16,000 retired mine workers.

Democrats say it's time to make that protection permanent.

"I am objecting on behalf of the miners and their families who need their pension and healthcare benefits they have earned," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who vowed to block all other Senate action until he gets his way.

Manchin had been slated to meet with President-Elect Trump on Friday, but moved that to Monday, so the West Virginia Democrat could deal with this matter.

In part - Democrats look at this as a way to try to push back at the success of President-Elect Donald Trump, who repeatedly emphasized his support for miners during the 2016 campaign.

The White House weighed in on behalf of the miners as well.

"The truth is, it’s quite cynical that Republicans in the Congress would adopt a position of only extending these benefits for the five-month life of the CR," said spokesman Josh Earnest.

"There should be bipartisan common ground to address the needs of these 20,000 coalminers who are slated to lose their health insurance at the end of the month," Earnest added.

"That's irresponsible and frankly, morally reprehensible," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said of the extension until April.

"I don't think we have any right to go home," Brown told reporters.

But in the first skirmish over this bill in the House, the plan was overwhelmingly approved on a vote of 360-61.

And in the Senate, the numbers aren't good for the Democrats - they can probably force the government to shut down this weekend, but may not win the overall fight on miner's benefits.

"At most, they can delay final passage of Continuing Resolution until 8 am Sunday," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the Senate, as he said Democrats are walking into a "box canyon."

Not only are there Democrats threatening to stop the stop gap budget, but also a bipartisan water infrastructure bill.

One of those threatening to filibuster the water resources bill is retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA); she's unhappy with provisions that were added late by her fellow Golden State colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

"I was a pain in the neck when I came, and I'm a pain in the neck when I go," Boxer said, as she complained about extra provisions added on to the water bill.

It's a familiar year-end situation for the Senate. Will a handful of Senators be able to stop action on major and minor legislation? Or will most Senators simply look at each and other and say, "It's time to go home."

The funding deadline for Uncle Sam is midnight tonight.