U.S. Senate Democrats could link same-sex marriage, gov't funding bills -source

·3 min read

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate could add language protecting gay marriage rights to a stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded and running, in a bill that will need Republican support for passage, a Democratic source said on Tuesday.

Such a move could up the pressure in the evenly divided chamber, as it faces a Sept. 30 deadline to avoid partial federal agency shutdowns when money runs out. Republicans on Tuesday warned that they considered the pairing a political stunt.

Congress has less than four weeks to pass the measure before returning to the campaign trail for the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when President Joe Biden's Democrats are expected to lose their thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Control of the Senate is also up for grabs.

Republican cooperation will be necessary in the Senate to pass the temporary funding bill that may last until December, which is needed because the two parties have yet to agree on a dozen regular funding bills. Democrats control the 50-50 Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the chamber's top Democrat, vowed to enact the funding package and avoid a politically damaging government shutdown.

"Democrats are going to work in good faith to avoid even a hint of a shutdown. And it is my expectation that our Republican colleagues will do the same," Schumer said in a Tuesday floor speech.

He has previously pledged to hold a vote on a House-passed bill codifying the right to same-sex marriage. The idea arose after conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in June wrote that the same logic that caused the court to overturn the national right to abortion could also lead it to reconsider its earlier decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

It is not clear that a bill codifying same-sex marriage would have the 10 Republican votes needed to pass. In recent days, senior Democrats have considered the possibility of adding it to the must-pass funding measure in hopes of ensuring approval, the Democratic source said.

Some Republicans pushed back on the idea of attaching the same-sex marriage legislation to the government funding measure.

"It's frankly a political stunt. Same-sex marriage ... isn't in political jeopardy," said Republican Senator John Cornyn, who predicted that combining the two bills could hamper support from his fellow party members.

Republicans also reacted skeptically to suggestions that Democrats could add other spending measures to the government funding bill, saying it was not clear why more money was necessary now.

On Friday, Biden requested $47.1 billion in new spending, including $11.7 billion in emergency funds to help Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces, $22.4 billion in COVID-19 aid and $4.5 billion to help deal with an outbreak of monkeypox.

"It's a big ask without much explanation," Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters. "There's a lot of talking to do about what they're asking for."

With many areas of the United States suffering from climate change-related flooding, Western wildfires and other natural disasters, Biden has requested $6.5 billion in aid.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin may ramp up his push for a bill reforming the way permits are approved for energy infrastructure projects ranging from pipelines to export facilities. It is a measure that some Democrats could have concerns with because of climate change worries.

Heading into the final two months of the campaign, congressional Democrats were feeling somewhat more optimistic about avoiding massive losses to Republican challengers.

Gasoline prices have fallen and there are signs of a public backlash against the conservative-majority Supreme Court's overturning abortion rights, which was a Republican Party goal for decades.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan in WashingtonEditing by Scott Malone, Josie Kao and Matthew Lewis)