- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown after Senate Democrats led a filibuster Tuesday, blocking a stopgap spending bill that funded the fight against Zika and addressed flooding in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland, but offered no money for Michigan residents affected by lead-tainted water.

The new fiscal year begins Saturday, but Congress has yet to pass any of the dozen bills needed to avoid a shutdown.

GOP leaders had hoped the deadline would scare lawmakers into unity, but most Senate Democrats, aided by maverick Republicans, mounted the filibuster, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struggling for a graceful exit to another thorny political snafu — this one coming just weeks before the election.

The GOP legislation fell 15 votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, with more than a dozen Republicans joining most Democrats in opposition.

Mr. McConnell said he met Democrats’ demands by allowing Zika money to be spent by Planned Parenthood — only to see the minority party pick last-minute fights over tainted water in Flint, Michigan, and over campaign finance rules.

“It’s almost as if a few Democratic leaders decided long ago that bringing our country to the brink would make for good election year politics, and then they’ve just made up the rationale as they go,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who is eager to let vulnerable GOP incumbents campaign back home.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate said Flint will be taken care of in a water projects bill now working its way through Congress. The Senate has already approved the money.

Democrats, however, said they couldn’t trust House Republicans who’ve blocked similar efforts on their side of the Capitol.

Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will refuse to accept a continuing resolution, or “CR,” that provides $500 million in flood relief for Louisiana, which has two Republican senators, but not a penny for Flint residents who’ve suffered for two years.

“The Republicans are essentially saying the disasters in our states are more important than the disasters in your state,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Mr. McConnell said that may mean nobody gets disaster relief in the bill.

Democrats and Republicans had begun the year vowing to brush aside election-year chaos and use “regular order” to fund the government by passing all 12 annual appropriations bills ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.

Yet the process hit roadblocks early on.

Republicans failed to pass a budget amid intraparty turmoil over spending levels. Democrats then began to filibuster every spending bill that came to the Senate floor, fearing the GOP would use gimmicks to boost defense spending but be stingy on domestic needs.

All the while, Democrats prodded Republicans to free up billions of dollars in emergency funding for Zika, the opioid epidemic and Flint.

GOP leaders agreed to find cash for Zika and opioid-fighting efforts, but Democrats have drawn a line on Flint, insisting the city be taken care of as well.

Four Democrats voted with GOP leaders, but a dozen Republicans defected, further wounding Mr. McConnell.

Sen. Ted Cruz led a group of Republicans upset that Mr. McConnell didn’t include language that would block the administration from turning over the U.S. Commerce Department’s role in controlling internet domain names to a private sector nonprofit informally known as “ICANN.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he opposed the spending bill because it does not propose changes to the Export-Import Bank’s rules so that it can authorize transactions of $10 million or more without a quorum.

Those defections have strengthened Democrats’ negotiating hand. They say Republicans must rely on the minority party’s support to avoid a shutdown.

“They’re going to need Democrats to pass anything, because they have a group over there that would not vote to turn the lights on in the morning if they had a choice,” said Rep. Daniel T. Kildee, the Michigan Democrat whose district includes Flint.

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