Suddenly, government shutdowns have become cool again — in the media and on Capitol Hill, depending on who’s talking … and when. Both Politico and the Washington Post have warnings up about the first potential shuttering of the executive since Ted Cruz’ ill-fated attempt to defund ObamaCare in 2013 over a budgeting dispute over benefits for coal miners. The House-passed version of the continuing resolution only extends those benefits through the end of April, which is the same time frame as the extension for all FY2017 spending. They have recessed, however, leaving the Senate with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
Politico leads by reporting it as “a major threat”:
Coal-state Senate Democrats are not backing off their resistance to a short-term government funding measure, raising a major threat of a shutdown at midnight Friday if the standoff over coalminer’s benefits drags on.
The issue is serious enough for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that he postponed a planned meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Friday. Manchin, who is reportedly in the mix for a Cabinet position for the incoming administration, will now meet with Trump on Monday, a spokesman for the senator said.
But at the end, Manchin and other unnamed Senate Democrats specifically dismiss talk of a shutdown:
Senate Democrats heading the charge for coalminers’ benefits insist they aren’t triggering the threat of a government funding lapse – saying there’s ample to time to figure out a longer-term fix for the workers before their benefits run dry at the end of this year.
“There’s no reason to speak about shutdowns,” Manchin said.
Manchin might be speaking out of both sides of his mouth. The Washington Post report has a much different quote from Manchin that emphasizes that Senate Democrats are threatening to shut down the government … although they can’t do it for long:
Senate Democrats are threatening to force a brief government shutdown this weekend to pressure Republicans to support policies they say match promises President-elect Donald Trump made on the campaign trail to help coal country and boost American manufacturers.
Government funding is set to run out at the end of Friday and lawmakers are considering a stopgap spending bill that would keep federal agencies funded through April 28. The angry Democrats are not threatening to block the spending measure, but to threaten to miss the Friday deadline in hopes they can entice Republicans into further negotiations. …
“I want to shut her down,” Manchin said Wednesday about the government, pointing to his anger over concerns about the miner provisions. “I mean this is ridiculous . . . You can’t throw 16,000 people out.”
Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp — rumored to be in the running for a Cabinet post — publicly invoked Donald Trump in their public statements, hoping to leverage Trump’s popularity with coal miners, or perhaps to damage it and Trump if he doesn’t intervene. That’s an odd position given that a third of the House Democratic caucus voted in support of the CR with the four-month extension, and especially given the Democratic Party’s years-long effort to put the coal industry out of business.
It should be difficult for Senate Democrats to explain why they’d let the government shut down over the holidays to keep from taking up a bipartisan CR that extends the benefits the same amount of time as the overall budget. They’re probably banking on getting more sympathetic treatment of their shutdown from the media than Cruz got for his, even though both would be equally futile and pointless. Republicans have already agreed to negotiate a longer benefit package in the next session of Congress, Mitch McConnell says, and Democrats need to “take ‘yes’ for an answer”:
“The difficulty here is they are having a hard time taking yes for an answer. I represent a lot of coal miners, I’m concerned about this issue. I had hoped we’d get a year. But we’ve got until the end of April to get at it again,” McConnell said in an interview on Friday — a point he stressed on the Senate floor later that morning.
Asked if the government would shut down, the GOP leader replied: “I certainly hope not. There’s no reason for it.”
The shutdown will likely be nothing more than a stunt, if it occurs at all. Authorization for spending ends at midnight tonight, which is why McConnell wants unanimous consent to take up the CR and pass it before the deadline. If Democrats refuse, McConnell can call a cloture vote, but needs 60 votes to break the threshold. Either way, though, Democrats can only stall a budget bill for a short period, which runs out on Sunday, as filibusters do not apply to budget bills. The CR would need only a majority at that point, limiting the shutdown to a single day — the least-followed news day of the week, at that.
There’s no reason to drag it out, but don’t bet against it happening. Senate Democrats need some sort of catharsis after watching their hopes of regaining the majority go down in flames.