Senate Avoids Shutdown With Last-Minute Approval of Spending Bill

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In a highly contentious, 11th hour vote, the Senate late Friday voted 63-36 to stave off a government shutdown that would have closed federal agencies at midnight. 

President Obama is expected to immediately sign the continuing resolution to avoid the appropriations lapse and keep the federal government open through April 28. Several Democratic senators threatened to prevent a vote on the measure over the timing of a provision to provide health care to retired coal minters, but relented with just hours to spare. 

Had Democrats refused to back down, federal agencies would likely have shut down only through Sunday, when Senate procedures would have allowed passage of the CR, despite the senators’ opposition. The White House indicated on Friday it would have allowed agencies to continue to function normally even if the appropriations had technically lapsed, so long as a vote to restore government seemed imminent. Still, the Office of Management and Budget had begun discussions with agencies to implement shutdown procedures. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said even the possibility of furloughing federal workers was enough to allow the CR vote to go through, even though he personally would vote against it. 

“As someone who’s got a lot of federal employees, we are not going to shut down the government on this issue,” Warner said on the Senate floor Friday evening. 

At issue was a provision in the spending bill to fund health care for retired coal miners and their families for only the duration of the continuing resolution. The group of Democrats opposing the CR, led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., was seeking a longer-term solution. The senators vowed to reexamine the issue in the new year. 

The House approved the CR easily on Thursday with support from a majority of Democrats.

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