McConnell Offers Bill to Avert Shutdown as Democrats Resist

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Capitol on Sept. 20, 2016, in Washington.

  • Votes likely next week, with Democrats yet to agree to deal
  • Democrats demand money to address lead-tainted water in Flint

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a stopgap spending bill Thursday to fund the U.S. government after Sept. 30, but a top Democrat said her party wasn’t ready to support it.

McConnell described the bill as a "clean" measure that would continue spending at current levels, but provide additional funding to combat the Zika virus and address flooding damage in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland. But he omitted money demanded by Democrats to address lead-tainted water problems in Flint, Michigan.

The Kentucky Republican said the measure, which also contains funding to address heroin and opioid abuse, would be voted on early next week, setting up a showdown between the parties over how to avoid a government shutdown ahead of the November election.

"There have been demands for a clean continuing resolution," he said on the Senate floor. "That’s what I’ve just offered."

But Senator Barbara Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said her party was rejecting the measure.

"It fails to help the people of Flint, Michigan," she said on the Senate floor. "We Democrats cannot vote for that substitute and urge others to vote against it."

She also complained that it would continue an existing provision preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Adam Jentleson, accused McConnell of trying to jam Democrats with a bill they haven’t seen while blocking them from offering amendments.

Internet Fight

Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach a deal so far to avoid a government shutdown. The debate became particularly contentious after Donald Trump backed Senator Ted Cruz in his fight to use the measure to keep government oversight of internet domain names.

"It’s obvious to me that Trump, who wants the federal government out of everything, suddenly now wants the government in something," Reid told reporters Thursday morning, making it clear that no deal is imminent to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. "It’s his issue now. I don’t think it’s gonna sell well in my caucus."

But McConnell’s bill, which would fund the government through Dec. 9, brushed aside Trump’s and Cruz’s concerns and wouldn’t block the transition.

Cruz urged the House to hold the line.

"I am profoundly disappointed that Senate negotiators appear to have given in to the White House demands to hand over increased control of the Internet to authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran," Cruz said in a statement Thursday. "This is one more example why the American people are so fed up with Washington, because they expect all of us -- Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike -- to protect free speech online."

The internet issue had taken center stage after Trump’s presidential campaign issued a statement Wednesday blasting President Barack Obama for a long-planned effort to hand over supervision of domain names to an international consortium after Sept. 30.
 
"Democrats are refusing to protect the American people by not protecting the internet," Trump policy director Stephen Miller said in a statement, referring to an effort led by Cruz and House Republicans to add language to a stopgap spending measure aimed at blocking the transition. "Congress needs to act, or internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost." Cruz thanked Trump, who he has yet to endorse, in a tweet for his support.

Additional Funding

The bill McConnell released Thursday would provide $1.1 billion to address Obama’s request from February for additional funding to fight Zika. Republicans inserted $400 million of offsetting cuts.

The Republican draft includes $500 million for flooding relief in Louisiana and other states, as well as an additional $37 million for Justice Department and Health and Human Services Department programs to address opioid abuse.

It also includes full-year funding for veterans’ programs.

But the bill didn’t include a provision requested by the White House that would have fully restored the authority of the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finalize loans of more than $10 million. There is already a $20 billion backlog of export deals waiting on the Senate to act, according to the bank.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this omission means that he won’t support the measure.

“I will not vote for a continuing resolution which does not contain a fix" for the Export-Import Bank, he said. "We are losing American jobs to foreign competitors for no good reason."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called on Republicans Thursday to pass a clean spending measure.

"Too often we’ve seen a failure on the part of Republicans in Congress to do their job," Earnest said. "That’s something they’ll have to answer for in a few weeks."

Republicans, of course, say a clean spending measure is exactly what they have offered.

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