Dems Raise Alarms About Keeping Government Open

With funding expiring Friday, Democrats haven't seen the spending plan the GOP is expected to release soon, and warned it needed to be "free of poison pill riders" to pass.

WASHINGTON ― With the government set to run out of money on Friday, Republicans in Congress had yet to roll out a plan, and nervous Democrats warned Tuesday that they would not simply pass something they haven’t even seen.

Congress agreed in September to keep the government open until after the election by passing a so-called continuing resolution ― or “CR,” as it’s commonly known on Capitol Hill ― that essentially keeps funding flowing at current levels.

But Democrats warned they have no idea what’s in the CR, and that they will not simply swallow it when the deadline hits at midnight on Dec. 9.

“I call the CR the phantom CR because no one’s seen it,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday.

“Unlike other CRs, they’re not negotiating with us, so we don’t know what they’re putting in,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will replace Reid in January. “I think they’re trying to figure out their own Republican troops first, which … are in some degree of disarray.”

There are a number of issues on the Republican side that GOP leaders are trying to sort out before releasing text of the CR, which is expected to drop late Tuesday night. While a CR is supposed to only extend current funding and programs, lawmakers were adding so-called “anomalies” to this stopgap spending bill that would add money for overseas defense activities and some Energy Department programs related to nuclear activities, and they were debating a number of other provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was pushing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to agree to a fix for miners’ health care benefits that would extend beyond the April 28 sunset of the funding bill. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was also pushing for a fix to a miners’ pension fund that faces insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies. Manchin indicated Tuesday that he would object to any unanimous consent request for the CR if it didn’t include provisions on miners’ pensions and health care, which could temporarily shut down the government, since consent is required in the Senate to speed passage.

Democrats have also been pushing to lower the quorum for the Export-Import Bank so it can function with fewer members. Currently, three of the five seats on the export credit agency’s board remain vacant, preventing board members from obtaining a quorum to offer loans greater than $10 million.

Conservatives have indicated that adding language to lower the quorum could cost the CR their vote, meaning GOP leaders risk losing their votes if they include it, just as they risk Democratic support if they don’t put it in.

Overall, Democrats were looking to keep the CR generally clean. But with the extended time period for the funding bill ― originally, the bill was only supposed to go until March 31 ― lawmakers have been trying to add more anomalies for their priorities.

“Any funding agreement must be fair, and free of poison pill riders,” Reid said. “There’s no reason we can’t pass the CR. But it can’t pass with all this unrelated stuff on it, and stuff that does more harm than good.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) warned Republicans not to push the government to the edge again. “We’ve said to Republicans in the House, before this mystery CR is unveiled, understand there are some provisions in there that could stop it from being passed,” Durbin told reporters. “Fix them so we don’t face that possibility.”

Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.