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Shutdown likely averted as US Democrats end funding blockade
[WASHINGTON] US Senate Democrats on Friday dropped their objections to a short-term federal spending bill, all but assuring the government does not slip into a shutdown over a fight about health benefits for coalminers.
After taking the debate right to the brink just hours before a midnight deadline to fund federal operations, Democrats eased their hard line and prevented a brief weekend funding lapse that could have embarrassed lawmakers in the month before Donald Trump assumes the presidency.
"We're not going to shut down the government. We're going to keep it open," said Senator Chuck Schumer, who will lead the chamber's Democrats beginning next month.
"We're going to provide the votes to make sure we don't shut down." A handful of Democrats had strenuously fought for an extension of health benefits for retired miners. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had sought a one-year extension, but the Republican-led House of Representatives approved just a four-month fix.
On Thursday the House passed their version of the short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), by a vote of 326-96, then promptly left Washington for the remainder of the year. The bill funds government operations through April 28.
Mr Manchin, whose state is a major coalmining region, had called the temporary proposal for some 16,000 retired coal miners "inhumane" and vowed to delay a vote.
But Mr Manchin, who meets with Mr Trump on Monday in New York, changed his tune after huddling with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who pledged to work hard early next year to get the benefits extended.
Senate leadership announced a 10.00pm (0300 GMT Saturday) vote to advance the stopgap measure, followed by a vote on final passage.
Mr McConnell and other Republicans noted that the CR would fund overseas operations including the fight against the Islamic State group, provide a pay raise for US military personnel, and include money for Flint, Michigan to address its water contamination crisis.
In their support for the blockade, Democrats appeared keen to connect with working-class voters who abandoned the party in droves in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and voted for Mr Trump.
Many observers had accused Democrats of failing to lay out a viable economic plan for the working class, focusing instead on social issues and blasting Mr Trump as temperamentally unfit to lead.