Senate Democrats could link same-sex marriage, gov't funding bills: source

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate could add language protecting gay marriage rights to a stopgap bill to keep the federal government funded in a bid to increase pressure on Republicans to support it, 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 at the end of this month.

Congress has less than four weeks to pass the measure before returning to the campaign trail for the Nov. 8 midterm elections, in which 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, a Democrat, has vowed to hold a vote on a House-passed bill codifying the right to same-sex marriage.

It is not clear that bill will 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.

During the August recess both parties worked on revisions to the measure, which could help its prospects, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

UKRAINE AID, DISASTER FUNDING ON THE TABLE

Plenty of controversial issues could roil Congress as it grapples with a massive spending bill.

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 and $22.4 billion in COVID-19 aid.

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, along with $4.5 billion to help deal with an outbreak of monkeypox.

A special House committee might hold at least one more hearing as part of its investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. A separate probe into Trump's handling of classified documents has dominated headlines for months, worrying some Republican candidates about election fallout.

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.

DEMOCRATS SOMEWHAT OPTIMISTIC

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 off of highs 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.

Democrats have scored victories this year on popular initiatives, such as gun control, placing a cap on some prescription drug prices and moving toward carbon emissions reductions blamed for climate change.

Nevertheless, Biden's popularity has suffered because of Americans' economic worries and COVID-19 pandemic fatigue.

Republican lawmakers undoubtedly will spend this upcoming work session hammering away on such issues.

"These are challenging times for a lot of folks," Republican Senator Mitt Romney said in a statement last week. "With record inflation, we’re seeing higher prices for food, electricity, gasoline, and more."

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Josie Kao and Jonathan Oatis)