Minnesota DFL Sen. Tina Smith says she won't vote for a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded until Feb. 16.
She and her Democratic colleagues say they'll hold up the bill because it doesn't include measures like protection for young undocumented immigrants under the DACA program. Smith said she would support a measure to keep the government open for a few days while Congress works to reach a final budget agreement.
The government will partially shut down if Congress doesn't act by midnight Friday. MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Smith about the possible shutdown.
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Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
I see on Facebook that you say you won't vote for the bill passed by the House when the Senate takes it up?
Yes that's right. You know, I am barely two weeks into this job and I have to say I'm already a little frustrated. I may be new to this but I remember my high school civics lesson and what we Democrats are saying in the Senate is that we're supposed to pass budgets, not these short term, month-by-month fixes that don't move us forward, and that is a really important issue here. I mean you cannot run a great country month by month.
After you made your statement, the campaign operation for Republicans in the U.S. Senate criticized you saying that funding the government is an elected officials most basic duty and your actions show you are unable to deliver for Minnesota voters. What about that criticism?
Funding the government is our number one most important responsibility and that is why we can't continue to run our national government with these short-term, one month, two month issues. That's not the way small businesses run. That's not the way city councils and school boards run. And it's not the way our country should run. And last night we actually saw some direct examples of how these short-term month-by-month budgets really hurt our country. We saw that even the spokesman for the Pentagon said this is bad for military preparedness. What we need to do is to stop this sort of lurching from crisis to crisis and get down to business. The Republicans need to negotiate with us so that we can move forward the priorities that we actually all share. Whether it comes to dealing with pensions or the opioid crisis or making sure that people who were brought to this country when they were children have a path to citizenship. That's something that we've got bipartisan agreement on. So let's do it.
Republicans are of course teeing up the criticism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that Democratic senators' fixation on illegal immigration has already blocked us from making progress on long-term spending talks. And that same fixation has them threatening to filibuster funding for the government. Do Democrats run the risk of overplaying their hand and being blamed for a shut down if that happens?
I think it's remarkable that we have a situation where the Republicans are in charge of the House and the Senate and the White House. We have never in our country had a shutdown when one party is in charge. So I think the question is, I mean, can they govern? Can they can they be in charge of this country? If they don't have enough votes because even their own party won't support this short-term budget, then let's work together and figure this out. That's what we asked to do last night. We said let's continue this conversation and negotiate tonight. And there have been a lot of negotiations that have happened behind the scenes. We, Democrats in the Senate, want to move those negotiations forward.
There is talk about a very short-term, continuing resolution in order to keep talking. Would you vote for that?
I think that that would be a really good solution. It will certainly take us a little while to get these issues worked out and if we all come to the table in good faith, I'm confident that we could do that in a couple of days. We would support that kind of short-term fix because it is very focused on getting a final agreement as opposed to this oh let's do a continuing resolution, a short-term budget for another month and then we're right back where we were, and we're not making progress.
Click audio player to hear the interview.