Critical band aid: Congress to vote on funding bill as government shutdown looms

Critical band aid: Congress to vote on funding bill as government shutdown looms
A “continuing resolution” required to keep the US government operating for the next four months is facing a vote in Congress, but several provisions – from allowing Trump’s DoD pick to take office, to Flint water crisis relief – may force a shutdown.

The federal government is currently fully funded until 11:59pm Eastern Time on December 9. House Resolution 2028 aims to provide the funding required until April 28, 2017. If it is not approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the government may need to go into a partial shutdown.

The resolution sailed through the House on Thursday afternoon, with 326 representatives in favor and 96 opposed. It is now up to the Senate to pass it before the Friday deadline.

“This legislation is just a band aid, but a critical one. It will give the next Congress the time to complete the annual Appropriations process, and in the meantime, take care of immediate national funding needs,” Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday.

One of the sticking points, however, is the language that exempts the next secretary of Defense from a law that requires military officers to be retired for seven years before being eligible for the post, according to Roll Call. This would clear the way for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Pentagon, retired Marine General James Mattis.

A $170 million provision would “address the infrastructure and health needs of those communities affected by contaminated drinking water.” While this is intended to help Flint, Michigan and other communities dealing with lead in the water, the Democrats would have to agree with the GOP-proposed water infrastructure bill, which Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) may oppose over environmental concerns and the Endangered Species Act, Fox News reported.

New York lawmakers and Mayor Bill de Blasio are unhappy about getting only $7 million to cover the additional expenses of providing security for the president-elect at Trump Tower. They had asked for five times that amount.

The biggest obstacle to the CR may turn out to be the demand by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to extend health benefits to retired coal miners under the United Mine Workers Association 1993 Benefit Plan.

HR 2028 currently offers a four-month extension of the coverage, scheduled to expire on December 31, to the tune of $45 million. Manchin wants a more long-term solution, and has chosen to make his point by blocking unanimous consent on resolutions honoring Pearl Harbor veterans and condemning the Oakland warehouse fire on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

If Manchin blocks unanimous consent on the CR, the Senate would need to hold three procedural votes, which would keep it in session through Monday, Roll Call reported citing Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). This would trigger a shutdown of many government services over the weekend.

The continuing resolution (CR) funds the Pentagon to the tune of $5.8 billion, with another $4.3 billion for the State Department and USAID. Another $4.1 billion is allocated to disaster relief for damages caused by Hurricane Matthew, floods, drought and “other severe weather events.”

Other provisions include continued funding for the Navy’s future ballistic missile submarine program, Air Force’s KC-46A Tanker program, purchases of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters and “critical nuclear weapons activities.”

Some $872 million would go to funding the “21st Century Cures Act of 2016,” which was just adopted this week. The bulk of the funds – $500 million – would go to the states for responding to the opioid abuse crisis.