Senate Republicans blocked a government funding bill that would have provided some of the money that federal agencies need to operate during the current fiscal year and boosted security budgets as well as protections for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The legislation, also known as the 21st Century Cures Act, was supported by Democrats but was rejected by Republicans, who worried about a pending increase in the country’s debt limit. The bill would have boosted financing for programs meant to combat opioid addiction and expand coverage for cancer patients and Medicare patients with pre-existing conditions. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted that the measure would have provided flexibility on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, “which was the top priority of the incoming Republican majority.”
McConnell said he hoped that, “in the coming days,” negotiators would be able to resolve their differences and pass legislation that would “provide certainty for government operations and an orderly increase in the debt limit.”
A Democratic aide told The Daily Beast that the party would try to pass a procedural vote on the bill on Tuesday, and hoped that support would increase the prospects of its passage.
“The House is going to try to send it to the Senate tomorrow. The main thing,” the aide said, is that Republicans and Democrats agree to increase the debt limit.
Senate Democrats were so eager to pass the bill that they worked over the weekend to pare down their earlier objections. In a statement Monday afternoon, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “The bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act would be used to protect lifesaving research, services and treatments, and would put money in the hands of federal workers who have already lost their paychecks and/or are looking at layoffs because of the Trump shutdown. The bill can pass the Senate today in a vote we expect will have overwhelming bipartisan support.”
The move to pass the 21st Century Cures Act marks the first time that Senate Democrats have officially used the power of the filibuster to block a bill, after trying to do so earlier this year in an attempt to leverage a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump earlier this year rescinded.
Both President Trump and Republicans, meanwhile, have cast blame on Democrats for the current partial government shutdown, which entered its sixth day on Monday. The bill that was blocked in the Senate would have had enough Democratic support to pass, and it would have passed the House as well.
“It’s shocking that Senate Democrats appear so prepared to let our military, 800,000 service members, come to a standstill while they play political games,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. “Democrats need to remember that every federal employee they put out of work is a taxpayer that will not be able to pay their bills, and on our side we will not rest until we fully reopen the government.”
Senate Democrats have said they are hopeful that Congress can find a way to re-open the government while also raising the debt limit. “We have made it very clear, what our priorities are here: a budget deal, an increase in the debt limit, and child care. We’ve been clear about what our priorities are,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday afternoon. “The hard part is getting over this stalemate. And we’re going to keep trying.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said earlier Monday that the shutdown would remain in place “until our priorities are met.” In a statement to The Washington Post, Cotton called the legislation a “monstrosity” and said that Democrats had become “completely disconnected from reality” on the budget negotiations.
The stakes of the shutdown have been particularly high for America’s military. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis released a statement earlier Monday expressing frustration over the delay in passing the funding legislation, which he warned could have a “devastating impact” on the military.
In a letter to service members on Monday, Mattis wrote, “The Department of Defense will continue to do everything we can to minimize the impact of the lapse in appropriations on our people, our operations, and our missions. However, everything we do will be at risk until Congress provides the funding necessary to keep the Department running.”