Congress Avoids Government Shutdown After Vaccine Fight
Congressional leaders approved legislation overnight to finance the government into mid-February, averting a partial government shutdown scheduled to begin at midnight on Friday.
On Thursday night, the Senate approved a short-term funding plan to avoid a government shutdown, putting the legislation in jeopardy after a days-long debate over President Biden's vaccination requirement halted progress on the legislation.
To finance the government until February 18, senators voted 69 to 28 to support a temporary measure. Having passed through the House earlier in the evening, Biden's measure now heads to his desk, where he will have until the end of the day on Friday to sign it into law.
The swift votes represent a 180-degree swing from the situation on Thursday morning when the route to prevent a shutdown seemed unclear.
House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders announced a stopgap agreement. Still, obstacles remained in the Senate due to a dispute with an influential bloc of conservatives.
A continuing resolution, short-term financing legislation, was sought to defund Biden's vaccination requirement for bigger corporations, government workers and contractors, and the military via the short-term spending measure known as a continuing resolution.
Republican opposition to the initiative was met with swift Democratic rebuke, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) branding Republicans as "anti-vaccine."
Even as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that the government would not shut down, senators were engaged in a verbal battle with one another.
Republican Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), one of the senators pushing to defund the vaccine mandate, responded by saying that a shutdown was "up to Senator Schumer." Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) warned that Republicans would bear the blame for a "Republican anti-vaccine shutdown."
On Thursday, the road to an off-ramp began to appear gradually.
If Democrats let them vote on defunding Biden's vaccination requirement with a simple majority threshold, Marshall and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have stated they would offer to help speed up the funding bill's passage by pledging to support it.
The senator said that he had proposed a "pretty basic solution, a very sensible one" and only wanted to vote on one amendment.
On Thursday, when the Senate adjourns typically for the week, lawmakers waited to see whether Democrats would grant Lee his vote or if the libertarian-leaning Republican would back down and settle for a vote on the vaccine mandate, which Republicans will impose next week under the Congressional Review Act, which they control.
Senators emerged from a Republican luncheon warning that they were not near reaching a compromise with Lee, increasing the possibility that the shutdown struggle might continue into Friday afternoon. The end-of-week jet lag looked to have set in by about 5:30 p.m., with senators forecasting a swift vote to approve the short-term funding plan.
Senator Ted Cruz told reporters that the conservatives' vaccination mandate vote was "looking positive" on Thursday night, which would enable the short-term government funding measure to pass soon afterward.
And, while failing to provide details, Schumer told reporters that the odds of a swift settlement to the budget dispute were "looking good."
In the end, senators voted 48-50 in favor of the Republican amendment, falling short of the simple majority required to be included in the law.
A stalemate ensued as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a perennial swing vote, refused to indicate whether he would support the GOP plan if it were allowed to come up for a vote during the day Thursday.
It would only take one Democrat — maybe Manchin — to be removed from the table if every Republican was there for the GOP to insert a clause that would exclude money for Vice President Biden's vaccination requirement.
However, with a government shutdown coming, the legislation would probably have failed in the House.
After everything was said and done, Manchin voted against the GOP amendment. Democrats had some wiggle space since two Republicans — Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) — were absent from the vote.
Republicans will have another chance to block Vice President Joe Biden's vaccination requirement next week, when they may use the Congressional Review Act to vote to repeal the rule with a simple majority.
When asked about the bill's chances of passing the Senate, McConnell said it had a "good chance" of passing in an interview with Fox News.
Even though Congress has managed to keep the government running until the middle of February, they still face substantial obstacles in reaching an agreement on a long-term financial solution.
The Senate has not yet taken up any of the financing bills for the fiscal year 2022, but the House has approved nine.
Even though key appropriators have convened to discuss how to reach a consensus on full-year spending legislation, it seems that no movement has been achieved.
"That's our goal," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, when asked whether Republicans were unable to discuss unless Democrats dropped "poison pills" or proposals that one party considers non-starters.