(Updates with Obama signing funding bill, Senate approves water
By Susan Cornwell and Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON Dec 9 The U.S. Senate passed
legislation on Friday to fund the government through April and
President Barack Obama promptly signed it into law, after
Democrats who had sought more generous healthcare benefits for
coal miners stopped delaying action on the measure.
Many government services and operations would have been
closed or suspended at midnight, when current funding authority
expired, if the Senate had not approved the bill. The vote was
The House of Representatives passed the legislation on
Obama signed the measure, the White House said in a
statement issued about 90 minutes after the Senate passed it.
Democrats from coal-producing states, led by West Virginia
Senator Joe Manchin, had delayed the Senate vote on the funding
bill in a failed attempt to get a bigger extension of miners'
healthcare benefits that expire at the end of this year.
The Democratic senators, many of whom are up for re-election
in 2018, seemed eager to court blue-collar voters who flocked to
Republican President-elect Donald Trump in elections last month.
Some of the senators also appealed to Trump to help the miners.
Trump "won coal country big, that's for sure," incoming
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.
"So we are simply asking our president-elect, to communicate
to the people in his party, to get on board, live up to the
promise we made the miners many years, decades ago," Schumer
The legislation provided financial support for four more
months of healthcare benefits for coal miners, through April,
but Manchin and other Senate Democrats wanted at least a year.
Senate Republicans refused to reopen the issue. But Schumer
said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised
Manchin he would work next year to continue the benefits beyond
April. Manchin and the other Democrats then stopped objecting to
holding the vote, although they still opposed the measure.
"I was born in a family of coal miners," Manchin said. "And
(if) I'm not going to stand up for them, who is?"
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has been touted as a
possible member of Trump's cabinet, is scheduled to see Trump in
New York on Monday. Manchin told reporters, however, that "I'm
not looking for a job."
The government funding bill would keep federal agencies
funded until April 28. It freezes most spending at current
Flint, Michigan, which has endured a two-and-a-half-year
struggle with lead-contaminated drinking water, would get access
to a $170 million fund for infrastructure improvements and lead
poisoning prevention under the bill.
The Senate also passed a separate bill authorizing water
projects around the country that included directions for
spending the Flint money and provisions to provide relief to
drought-stricken California. This measure was also approved by
the House on Thursday.
A provision in the government funding bill would make it
easier for Trump to win confirmation of General James Mattis to
be defense secretary early next year.
Republicans demanded it to help Mattis get around a
requirement that the defense secretary be a civilian for seven
years before taking the job. Mattis retired from the military in
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Gregorio and