US Congress: House votes to avert shutdown, but quick Senate OK in doubt
- United States
The House passed a bill on Thursday that funds the government through February 18 and avoids a short-term shutdown after midnight Friday, but quick Senate approval was in doubt because of a fight over President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandates. An agreement among congressional leaders announced earlier in the day would keep the government running for 11 more weeks, generally at current spending levels while adding USD 7 billion to aid Afghanistan evacuees.
Lawmakers bemoaned the short-term fix and blamed the opposing party for the lack of progress on this year's spending bills. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the measure would, however, allow for negotiations on a package covering the remainder of the budget year through September.
“There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic, and I don't think that will happen,'' Biden said.
Conservative Republicans opposed to Biden's vaccine rules want Congress to take a hard stand against the mandated shots for workers at larger businesses, even if that means shutting down federal offices over the weekend. It was just the latest instance of the brinkmanship around government funding that has triggered several costly shutdowns and partial closures over the past two decades. The longest shutdown in history happened under President Donald Trump — 35 days stretching into January 2019, when Democrats refused to approve money for his U.S-Mexico border wall. Both parties agree the stoppages are irresponsible, yet few deadlines pass without a late scramble to avoid them.
Republicans said during the debate that they had made it clear in the summer that they would not support spending bills that include “irresponsible spending increases and extreme policies.'' “Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves,'' said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.
Democrats were able to use their majority to advance the spending bill. They have a more difficult task in the 50-50 Senate, where objections by just one senator can slow a final vote past Friday's midnight deadline. That could mean a short-term shutdown into the weekend. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Democrats knew last month from a letter that several Republicans would use all means at their disposal to oppose legislation that funds or allows the enforcement of the employer vaccine mandate. He blamed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for not negotiating and for ignoring their position.
GOP senators said the idea is to vote on stripping money that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would use to implement the requirement that private employers with 100 or more workers ensure they are vaccinated or regularly tested.
Schumer said it was “not easy to reach this deal'' and that while most Republicans do not want a shutdown, a “few individual Republican senators appear determined to derail this important legislation because of their opposition to the president's lifesaving vaccine guidelines.'' “Let's be clear, if there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican, anti-vaccine shutdown,'' Schumer said.
The White House sees the vaccinations as the quickest way to end a pandemic that has killed more than 7,80,000 people in the United States and is still evolving, as seen Wednesday with the country's first detected case of a troubling new variant. Courts have knocked back against the mandates, including a ruling this week blocking enforcement of a requirement for some health care workers.
For some Republicans, the court cases and lawmakers' fears about a potentially disruptive shutdown are factors against engaging in a high-stakes shutdown.
“One of the things I'm a little concerned about is: Why would we make ourselves the object of public attention by creating the spectre of a government shutdown?” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a GOP leader. “There's too much chaos in our country right now, too much concern about omicron. The last thing we need is more confusion and fear,'' said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“We're not going to do that,'' he said Thursday.
The administration has pursued vaccine requirements for several groups of workers, but the effort is facing legal setbacks.
A federal judge this week blocked the administration from enforcing a vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states. Earlier, a federal appeals court temporarily halted the OSHA requirement affecting employers with 100 or more workers.
The administration has also put in place policies requiring millions of federal employees and federal contractors, including military troops, to be fully vaccinated. Those efforts are also under challenge.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)