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Government Shutdown Looms as Senate Grapples With Budget and Water Bills

by Countable | 12.9.16

When members of the House departed the Capitol on Thursday after passing to fund the government beyond tonight’s deadline through most of April, it appeared as though the 114th Congress might be coming to anti-climactic close so long as the Senate followed suit.

Now, it appears that things won’t go as smoothly as some lawmakers might have hoped, with an impasse over healthcare benefits for miners and the impact a water infrastructure bill could have endangered fish threatening to cause a government shutdown at 11:59:59 EST Friday night.

What’s the Senate fighting about?

There are two pieces of legislation that the Senate will have to pass before it adjourns for the year — the CR and a water infrastructure and drought relief bill — both of which have irked Senate Democrats and raised the threat of a shutdown for their own reasons.

On Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he would attempt to block the government funding bill passed by the House known as a continuing resolution (or CR) unless a long-term solution to keep healthcare benefits for miners in place was reached and included.

Under current law over 15,000 miners and their families would lose healthcare coverage at the end of the year if funding isn’t reauthorized under the Miners Protection Act. The House-passed version of the CR contains $45 million in funding (all of which is offset, so it’s not new spending) that would go toward covering those miners and their families, but Manchin wants a longer reauthorization of the program.

The water infrastructure bill, which authorizes the $170 million provided by the CR to help communities like Flint, Michigan which are dealing with contaminated drinking water, has also raised concerns among Senate Democrats over whether drought relief provisions run afoul of the Endangered Species Act.

This particular disagreement has to do with protecting the California Delta Smelt, an endangered fish, from the increased pumping of water in California’s Central Valley Project and State Water Project that goes to farms in the state’s drought-stricken interior that’s permitted under the bill. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who will retire when the 114th Congress concludes, vowed to fight against the proposal, saying "there is no place for that as long as I am breathing."

Whether Manchin or Boxer are able to rally enough of their fellow Senators to join their respective causes is an open question, but either will need a total of 41 votes to block the legislation when it comes up for a vote. The two Democrats will likely be able to rely on some of the other 44 Senators who caucus with their party to oppose the bills, but it won’t be uniform support.

Both of Michigan’s senators — Gary Peters (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D) — will be hard-pressed to vote against funding for their beleaguered constituents in Flint, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has said she supports the drought relief measure opposed by Boxer as a better alternative to "even more harmful drought legislation" that might pass in the next Congress.

What happens if there is a shutdown?

First of all, it would be a partial government shutdown, so it’s not as if the entire federal government would be closed for business. The military and federal law enforcement agencies would continue to do their job, and entitlement payments to Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries would still go out as usual.

Federal workers who are considered non-essential would be furloughed, meaning that they can’t work, although they have in the past received back pay following shutdowns. During the 2013 shutdown more than 818,000 federal workers were furloughed, which caused national parks to be closed and agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency to operate with only a small number of employees. Whether workers will be furloughed also depends on the status of an agency’s budget, as the State Dept. and Securities and Exchange Commission remained at full staff longer than other agencies during the last shutdown because of the funding they had leftover.

What constitutes a "non-essential" program or activity is a slippery definition. There have been concerns that the timing of this year’s would-be shutdown could impact the annual Army-Navy college football game, which pits the cadets of West Point against the midshipmen from Annapolis and is scheduled to kickoff in Baltimore, Maryland at noon Saturday. However, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) quashed those worries, saying “I promise you they’re not canceling that game. Pigs will fly before that game is canceled,” adding an executive order from President Obama could let the game be played despite a shutdown.

When will it end (if there is a shutdown)?

As of now, that remains to be seen. By preventing the CR from being passed by unanimous consent, Senate Democrats delayed votes until 1 a.m. EST on Saturday at the earliest unless they choose to end debate on the legislation. Once the CR is passed, a shutdown will officially be over, and the water bill doesn’t need to be passed prior to the CR so the Senate may continue debating that bill following a vote on the CR.

You can read the continuing resolution to fund the federal government through April 28 here, the water infrastructure and drought relief bill here, or tell your reps how to vote using the "Take Action" button.

— Eric Revell

Photo by Flickr user NCPA Photos

Countable

Written by Countable

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(22)
  • Diane
    12/10/2016
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    A bill to fix Flint's water problems should have been passed LONG ago. Why was it combined with drought issues in California? Bad politics!

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  • LukeS
    12/09/2016
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    So, basically, the government will be shut down because we're choosing fish over fixing detrimental water problems such as in Flint? Problems that can harm human lives?

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  • Beaureguard
    12/10/2016
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    Please vote NO on the water bill. We must ensure environmental protection.

    Like (8)
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  • Suzi
    12/10/2016
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    First VOTE when Congress resumed. One subject per bill. No adding in things that don't deal with that particular bill.

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  • Sacoh
    12/10/2016
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    Wow, just be sure the army-navy football game isn't cancelled. It's good to know they're focused on the big issues...

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  • Annika
    12/10/2016
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    It's NOT "just some fish"! I know one species of fish may seem trivial, but when one species is harmed, millions of others will be as well, even humans. It's hard to see the big picture, but you can't harm one species without harming every other species in the nearby ecosystem.

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  • Esteven
    12/10/2016
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    Please don't let miners lose their health insurance. That's ridiculous.

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  • Mary
    12/10/2016
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    My big concern is that health care be provided for the miners. How can you, our public servants with fancy government health care, you who are hardly working, deny health care benefits for those miners who have worked so hard?!?

    Like (3)
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  • Thomas
    12/10/2016
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    Will it matter? The less the clowns do the better things are! 90% of the federal government should be shut down permanently.

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  • Monica
    12/10/2016
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    This combining of random bills together to push things thru is just ridiculous. People are just tired of all the antics.

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  • Young
    12/10/2016
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    Shit it down. Send the Bill back to the House. The exemption for the first appointment of Secretary of Defense needs to be removed. Let's not start a slippery slope of exemptions to rules and laws that do not suit the president elects agenda. The rules are there for a damn good reason.

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  • John
    12/10/2016
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    I just heard on Fox News that the Trump Organization will loan America enough money at 29% interest until the big day in Jan 17, Ivanka is selling bail out commemorative bracelets to the first 100 billionaires who also donate money to "Save Americas Ass Again." It's going to be beautiful

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  • John
    12/10/2016
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    Please save our country

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  • Wes
    12/10/2016
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    There SHOULD be a government shut down tonight. We're bleeding money. And a "stop-gap" spending resolution bandaid ain't gonna fix it. Our government needs major surgery.

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  • Agerhard
    12/10/2016
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    I strongly urge you to not engage in political antics and fight to protect endangered species. Also, funding miners health care should not be an issue. It's sad to see government shut downs occurring or threatened so frequently, so please reach a conclusion.

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  • Marilyn
    12/10/2016
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    Do your job and quit with these shutdowns. Quit playing games with taxpayers money!

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  • Solomon
    12/10/2016
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    I get wanting to make sure these fish are protected but at what cost? What about the human cost. Be realistic.

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  • Evelyn
    12/10/2016
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    Keep coal miners' benefits in the deal. Encourage buying American. Why were these stripped out in the first place?? Unacceptable.

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  • Peter
    12/16/2016
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    why don't they vote yes on everything so they can go home happy and get some sleep they really need it. peter.

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  • John
    12/10/2016
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    Do not worry about the fish the government is more important and you should reach a deal don't delay I strongly urge you pass the bill please stop fighting over the fish and to an agreement don't let it shut down the government please I beg of you

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