Speed Reads


House passes temporary spending package to keep government open, but Senate might derail it

On Thursday, the House approved a bill to finance the federal government until April 28, by a 329-96 vote, but Senate Democrats may force a brief government shutdown over a provision to fund the health care of retired coal miners. The current bill includes a four-month extension of the miners' health benefits, set to lapse on Jan. 1 for at least 12,500 union miners and their families, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he will "do everything I can to stop" the spending bill if it doesn't have a one-year extension, so lawmakers can work out a permanent fix for the miners' badly underfunded pension fund. "Nobody wants to close this great institution, this government down," he said. "But you've got to stand for something or sure to God you'll stand for nothing."

Manchin has support from other Democrats and even some Republicans, notably Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Republican leaders say the Democrats are fighting a losing battle on miners' health care and lost all leverage after the House passed the spending bill and left town for the Christmas holiday. "The House just took its last votes of the year," said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). "They're not going to get what they want," Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said of Manchin and his fellow Democrats. "They ought to actually be grateful for what they got." Manchin and several other of the coal-state Democrats are up for re-election in 2018.

Democrats pointed out that President-elect Donald Trump pledged to support coal miners during the campaign, and also a "Buy American" provision that was not included in a separate water infrastructure bill. A meeting on Thursday afternoon strengthened Democratic resolve to block the measure, though incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he "can't predict the exact path" they'll use to win the fight. Current spending runs out at midnight Friday, and Democrats can use procedural measures to block the bill until at least Sunday night.

Republican leaders in Congress had planned to fund the federal government for fiscal 2017 though separate spending bills hammered out in committee, but after Trump won they decided on an omnibus package so they could pass more favorable spending legislation without the threat of President Obama's veto.