Democratic senators on Friday defended their strategy of withholding their votes from a stopgap spending bill as ultimately helping federal agencies, despite bringing the government within hours of a shutdown.
The Senate has yet to develop a clear strategy to stave off an appropriations lapse at midnight, as the chamber appears to lack the necessary votes to send a month-long continuing resolution the House passed on Thursday to President Trump’s desk. As of Friday afternoon, the Senate had no vote scheduled on the measure.
Most Democrats would not offer their support for the bill and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., instead proposed an even shorter CR, lasting four or five days. Senators who have historically sought to avoid shutdowns in large part due to their desire to shield federal workers from forgoing paychecks or getting them late, said they ultimately had civil servants' best interests at heart because they were pushing for a full-year appropriation.
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“What we want is a budget, pure and simple,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who represents hundreds of thousands of federal employees. “We cannot live on continuing resolutions.”
Asked if he was nervous about the risk of forcing the federal workforce to go without pay, he said another CR would risk agencies’ capacities to carry out their missions.
“If we’re always going to yield to the most extreme in the House of Representatives, where does that leave the budget for this country? Cardin asked. “Where does it leave the federal workforce?”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on Friday the need to boost funding for federal agencies required a full-year appropriation rather than another CR.
“You cannot run a government on a month-to-month basis,” Sanders said. “We cannot continue to abdicate our responsibility.”
He cited ongoing vacancies at the Veterans Affairs Department as an example of an issue that “cannot be kicked down the road.”
VA “cannot continue to provide decent and quality care to those of our veterans who put their lives on the line to defend us when they have over 30,000 vacancies,” Sanders said. He added the Social Security Administration “is grossly underfunded, understaffed and simply not able to deal with the claims that they received…This CR that I presume we are going to vote on later today does not deal with it.”
On Friday afternoon, Schumer went to the White House to negotiate a solution to the government funding crisis with Trump, and to resolve outstanding immigration issues. "We made some progress but we still have a good number of disagreements,” Schumer said after returning to the Capitol. “The discussions will continue."
Several Republican senators expressed cautious optimism about the meeting, but acknowledged they would have felt more comfortable if congressional Republicans had a voice in the room.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Democrats’ appropriations argument hypocritical, noting they are against continuing resolutions while also calling for a shorter one.
“I’m old enough to remember around here four years ago when Chuck Schumer said you don’t take the government hostage to do politics,” Gardner said. “If you do, it will [make] governmental chaos. And here we are, with Sen. Schumer trying to create governmental chaos.”