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Manchin Thinks He Can Block CR Over Miner Health Benefits

West Virginia senator would risk a shutdown in search of a long-term fix

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III is leading efforts to get a long-term extension of miner health benefits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III is leading efforts to get a long-term extension of miner health benefits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A dispute over health care benefits and pension plans for retired coal miners and their survivors has become the issue most likely to prompt a standoff over a partial government shutdown that could begin this weekend.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III said Wednesday he was hopeful that his fellow Democrats would provide the votes needed to block a stopgap spending bill without a long-term solution to keep the benefits funded.

“I think we do,” Manchin said. “I need 41 to block the CR and basically, we’ll stay here until we do what’s right.”

The CR would extend funding for government agencies and programs through April 28.

If Manchin blocks unanimous consent for taking up the CR, the Senate would need to move through a series of three procedural votes, which would keep the chamber in town through Monday, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. Lawmakers would need to pass some kind of short-term continuing resolution before Friday night at midnight to avoid a partial government shutdown when the current CR expires.

Manchin made the remarks to reporters as he was entering Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the Capitol.

The West Virginia Democrat suggested that a key vote to limit debate could take place Thursday.

“I think we have strong support from our caucus. I’m praying that there’s enough,” he said of his effort to stop the bill as drafted.

The bill to keep the government funded through April 28 provides a four-month patch to keep health care benefits for the miners from lapsing, but Manchin and other coal-state Democrats have said that is not sufficient. They want a deal to ensure the health benefits extend for years.

Manchin is up for re-election in 2018. A moderate, he faces a tough campaign in a red state, especially following the election of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, whom Manchin is scheduled to meet with on Friday. (Trump carried West Virginia by 42 points last month.) Having a victory on the coal miners’ health care and pension issue could help him during that campaign.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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