Senate negotiations to avert a government shutdown remained mired Thursday, with the Senate’s top Democrat indicating that his party opposes key provisions in a Republican stopgap spending plan.
GOP leaders rolled out legislative text of a continuing resolution to keep the government running through Dec. 9 that was quickly rejected by Democrats.
“We’re back where we were yesterday. We’re in no hurry to go anyplace, OK?” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “We have a lot of time.”
With an agreement already in place to provide additional money to respond to the Zika virus outbreak, Reid declared, “We can pass a ‘clean’ [continuing resolution], we can do it in a matter of an hour or so.”
But major stumbling blocks remain. Reid said Democrats will not agree to a CR that contains flood aid for Louisiana but does not address the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The minority leader accused Republicans of “refusing to legislate,” saying that President Barack Obama will not sign a measure with provisions he deems “ideological.” Soon after, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest echoed that sentiment.
The White House’s “principle has not changed,” Earnest said, adding that Congress should send Obama a stopgap spending bill that is not used to “pass ideological riders into law.”
Another major sticking point is language in the package blocking a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that could force corporations to disclose campaign spending. It is favored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Reid’s rebuttal: “The answer’s no.”
“The president will accept no riders,” Reid said, repeating the White House’s stance that any stopgap sent to the president should be mostly free of controversial provisions backed by one party but opposed by the other. “If they want to get out of here, we’ve got Zika resolved. Do a clean CR and they can leave in 10 minutes.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn acknowledged that McConnell’s plan does not constitute an agreement with Reid and Democrats.
“I don’t know what the alternative is,” said the Texas Republican, accusing Reid of refusing to complete negotiations.
Yet another issue is whether to provide emergency funding for flood-ravaged Louisiana. On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said after a meeting with McConnell that the CR would include a “down payment” for aid to Louisiana.
“I expect that he’s going to make a proposal soon to move the CR through that has a significant down payment, and then we will be back in Congress during the lame duck session trying to get the remainder of the funding that we need in the omnibus bill,” Edwards told Roll Call.
Edwards declined to state the amount McConnell would include in his proposal, but said it would be a down payment on the community development block grants. He also declined to say when McConnell would move the CR and whether it would also include aid for the Flint water crisis.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who has been advocating for emergency funding to fight the Zika virus that is included in the McConnell package, said that Democrats appeared to be united against it.
“But it has Louisiana and it doesn’t have Flint,” Nelson initially said when asked if he could support the GOP proposal given the $1.1 billion in anti-Zika dollars.
“You’re gonna help the poor people in Louisiana but you’re not going to help the poor people in Michigan?” Nelson asked. “That’s not fair.”
But, hours later, Nelson’s office issued a statement reversing course, saying he would support McConnell’s bill because “my priority is the people of Florida,” where the Zika virus is a threat. “This bill provides a clean $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika virus with no political riders, and I will support it,” Nelson said in the statement.
And GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced several hours after McConnell dropped his plan that he would oppose it over the Ex-Im Bank matter. “We need a fully functioning Ex-Im Bank to help ensure American manufacturers are able to compete in the international marketplace on a level playing field,” he said in a statement.
Across the Capitol, House leaders are largely leaving the talks to the Senate. But it appears unlikely that the chamber would erect new obstacles once it receives whatever the Senate finally agrees to.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday that members of the House GOP caucus are “accepting” that a continuing resolution will extend government funding into December. “I think our members realize that we want to get our work done. We don’t want to have high drama around here this time,” he said.
Ryan said he does not personally believe additional funding for Flint’s lead-contaminated water problems should be added to the continuing resolution. Still, he does support additional money to help Louisiana recover from severe flooding.
“Flint is more of a local government issue. … That is an issue that belongs in the WRDA bill. We are bringing that up next week,” Ryan said, referring to a water projects authorization bill. He added that the level and widespread effect of the Louisiana floods meet the qualification for federal emergency aid.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump briefly injected himself into the legislative debate as lawmakers prepared to flee for a long weekend.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wanted to block an Obama administration plan to shift oversight of Internet domain addresses from the United States to an international entity. Trump endorsed Cruz’s effort, but McConnell opted against including it in his proposal.
Niels Lesniewski, Kellie Mejdrich, Bridget Bowman, and Jennifer Shutt contributed.