WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are tacking on money for security around Trump Tower in New York and funds for health care for retired coal miners to a stopgap spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown at week’s end.
The temporary budget bill, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, would keep federal agencies functioning into next spring, giving the new Congress and incoming president Donald Trump time to approve more than $1 trillion to fund federal agencies through the current government budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
Current spending expires at midnight on Friday. Since the measure is the only must-do bill before Congress adjourns, it’s likely to carry several add-ons, including flood relief, money for overseas military operations and help for Flint, Michigan, to fix its lead-tainted water system.
Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California swung against a proposal to help speed a congressional waiver required next year to confirm retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, who would otherwise be ineligible to serve because of a law that requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve as secretary of defense
“Brushing aside the law that enshrines civilian control of the military — without discussion, in a massive must-pass funding bill — would set a terrible precedent,” Pelosi said.
One major dispute centered on protecting health care benefits for about 16,000 retired coal miners facing the loss of coverage on Dec. 31.
The measure had divided coal-state Republicans. Several supported longer-term legislation tackling the loss of health care, but GOP leaders — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — were wary of bailing out unionized workers.
McConnell said Tuesday that the temporary health care help for miners would be part of the spending bill, though Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., protested that McConnell’s fix would only last for a few months vowed to push for a permanent solution.
Manchin vowed to block any Senate effort to move quickly on unrelated legislation until the miners’ fight was settled.
“Over two years ago, we promised the retired coal miners of America — we promised them and most of their families — and these are a lot of widows now — and we promise them that they would have their health care benefits, which were guaranteed to them, and their pensions,” Manchin said.
At issue are health benefits for retirees whose companies declared bankruptcy in recent years.
Also the subject of last-minute talks was an Obama administration request for $35 million to provide security for President-elect Trump, whose home in midtown Manhattan provides unusual and costly complications for the Secret Service. The trucking lobby appeared poised to win permanent relief from recent Transportation Department rules mandating rest for long-haul carriers, but details were unavailable.
The overall measure would keep the government running through April 28, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday.
The Senate, meanwhile, appears on track Tuesday to pass a $6.3 billion measure boosting medical research and speeding drug approvals. It also includes a $1.8 billion cancer research “moonshot” strongly supported by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the disease, as well as $1 billion over two years to prevent and treat abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs like heroin. The nearly 1,000-page package cleared the House overwhelmingly last week, with strong backing from President Barack Obama. It contains a long-overdue overhaul of federal mental health programs.
Biden presided over the Senate during an 85-13 procedural tally on Monday and a final vote is expected Tuesday despite opposition from liberals like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. She complained that the bill would make it easier for politically well-connected pharmaceutical and medical device industries to win federal approval for their products while raising risks to consumers.
For now, the stopgap measure is serving as a vehicle for $170 million to help Flint, Michigan, repair its aging water system to prevent its water from being poisoned with lead. Other items include about $4 billion to help Louisiana and other states rebuild from floods and other natural disasters, and money to partially meet the Obama administration’s $11.6 billion request last month for war-related money. Lawmakers will again deny themselves a cost-of-living pay hike that’s fallen out of favor.