Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday introduced a Republican-drafted bill that would prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month, but it is being opposed by Democrats after bipartisan negotiations stalled late this week.
Senate Republicans and Democrats have been haggling for days over what should be included in the stop-gap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), with leaders at times indicating a deal was close. But continuing disagreements over a handful of policy provisions each party wants to attach to the package could not be resolved.
The move is a sign that McConnell has grown frustrated after weeks of talks and is trying to put more pressure on the negotiations as the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 approaches.
“Beginning the process on the clean CR today will ensure that there is adequate time to finish before the override vote and before the current government funding runs out next week,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. The House and Senate are expected to hold votes next week to override President Obama’s expected veto of legislation that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia over its alleged support for the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
The stop-gap spending bill would fund the government through Dec. 9 and includes more than $1 billion in funds to combat the spread of the Zika virus and $37 million to speed the implementation of grant programs to battle opioid addiction — a provision pushed by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who is up for re-election this year. Democrats contend the opioid funding is not as generous as Republicans claim and would amount to $7 million over the course of a 10-week spending bill.
The legislation also includes $500 million in disaster relief for flooding in Louisiana, but it does not include a bipartisan aid package for the water crisis in Flint, Mich., that Democrats have demanded.
The flooding aid fell short of the $2.8 billion requested by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), but GOP leadership aides said the money in the bill would be a down payment toward further relief. The block grant funding would also be available to other states recovering from natural disasters, including Texas, Arkansas and Maryland.
McConnell said lawmakers will have four days to review the bill before a vote is scheduled.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she and other Democrats will not support the bill over “partisan policy riders” they oppose. For instance, the legislation includes a measure opposed by Democrats that would keep in place language preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to publicly disclose their political spending. Liberal advocacy groups and some Democrats have been pushing for greater disclosure in this area in recent years.
“We Democrats cannot vote for that substitute and urge others to vote against it,” she said.
Exiting a caucus luncheon after McConnell’s decision, Democrats were divided over how bleak the status of negotiations were. Some said that the next move would have to be an olive branch from McConnell to restart negotiations or else face a certain defeat on a likely Tuesday vote in which he would need bipartisan support to clear the 60-vote threshold to advance the legislation.
“How’s Mitch going to resolve it if he wants to get it off the floor?” asked Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and an influential voice in leadership.
Others suggested the talks were ongoing and that other avenues could resolve the dispute over Flint funds. “Negotiations will continue over the weekend, so they’re continuing. So it’s a work in progress,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has led the push for federal help for Flint.
At his weekly press conference Thursday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) called the southern flooding and Flint water crisis “two separate issues” that would be dealt with in different legislative vehicles. Ryan said the Flint issue could be handled next week in a separate water resources bill that provides federal resources to local entities for rivers, dams and other water projects.
Peters signaled that if the Republican-controlled House included a robust package for Flint in its water bill, that might end the current standoff. “We want to make sure that Flint is taken care of and we’re able to move it forward. So certainly we’re open to any vehicle that’s going to make that happen, but we want to make sure that it is indeed going to happen,” he said.
But Democrats are very much linking the two emergency funding plans.
“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,” Stabenow said.
The latest McConnell legislation may not be supported by all Republicans. It does not include a provision backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that would delay a planned end to the U.S. government’s role managing a group that oversees Internet domain names.
The bill also doesn’t include a provision pushed by the White House and Democrats that would effectively allow the Export-Import Bank to approve more deals, which is prevented from doing now because on two its five board seats are filled.
But the exclusion of this provision is also a problem for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who supports the bank.
“I will not vote for a Continuing Resolution which does not contain a fix for the Export-Import (EX-IM) Bank,” he said in a statement. “We are losing American jobs to foreign competitors for no good reason.”
Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane contributed to this report.