Sen. Joe Manchin announced Friday he has new assurances that Congress will extend coal miner health benefits, and he seemed prepared to lift his objection to a vote on a government spending bill before a critical midnight deadline.
The deal allowed the Senate to set up votes at 10 p.m. Friday night to pass the spending bill, just two hours before funding expires.
Manchin relented on the pre-midnight vote amid pressure from Democrats, even those who back his effort to win longer benefits for the miners.
Manchin took the floor with several of his Democratic colleagues, many of whom stressed that they were not about to let the government partially shutdown over the healthcare fight. Manchin himself didn't say when votes might happen, but his colleagues made it clear they would happen soon.
"We are not going to shut down the government on this issue," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. "But we are going to make sure this fight does not end tonight."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined them on the floor and said it was never the intention of Democrats to shut down the government.
Still, Democratic leadership aides would not confirm a vote would happen before midnight, which is when the current spending resolution expires.
Manchin, D-W.Va., had been seeking a year-long extension of miner health benefits that are set to expire in January. The current spending measure provides a four-month extension.
Manchin said McConnell's floor speech earlier Friday gave him confidence that Congress will not let the benefits expire. In the speech, McConnell pledged to renew the expiring benefits next year and said it was highly unlikely Congress would let them lapse.
"I believe him, I do," Manchin said.
But Manchin and other coal-state Democrats said because House GOP leaders did not make the same pledge, they will oppose the spending bill.
The House concluded business on Thursday and left town, making alternations to the health benefits provision nearly impossible.
"We will get a good vote today in opposition to this," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. "That should send a message to [Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] how important this that come January, we vote for a permanent fix on pension and health care" for miners.
Democrats lined up on the Senate floor to pledge "no" votes on the spending bill and promised solidarity next year in fighting for a permanent extension of benefits.
"We are not going to stop fighting on this," Sen. Casey, D-Pa., said, adding Democrats "are going to register a protest," against the spending bill out of anger over the short-term benefits provision.
Their "no" votes won't matter, since several other Democrats are expected to support passage of the bill, which will allow it to get to President Obama's desk later tonight, before federal funding expires. The hold that Manchin had on the bill was a bigger problem, since Manchin was threatening to delay the bill as long as they could, which could have seen them take it past midnight and into Saturday of Sunday.