WASHINGTON – A divided house on Thursday approved legislation to keep government funded until mid-February, but a group of Senate Republicans were still threatening to force the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing mandate to close for large employers.
Less than 36 hours before funding expired, the House voted 221 to 212 to keep government open until Feb. 18 and provide $ 7 billion for the care and resettlement of Afghan refugees. Just one The Republican, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, joined Democrats in voting for the measure.
But the fate of the legislation was uncertain in the Senate, where unanimity would be needed to speed up its passage before the midnight Friday deadline. A few Republicans have warned they will oppose unless they get a vote on an amendment that would ban funding for the execution of President Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate for the private sector.
Leaders from both parties warned of a government shutdown and urged colleagues to find other ways to register their opposition to the vaccines mandate. Several contributors noted that the Senate was already on track to vote later this month on a Republican offer to roll back the rule.
“Let’s be clear: if there is a stop, it will be a Republican anti-vaccine stop,” Majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said. He added: “I hope cold heads prevail on the other side so that we can keep the government funded before tomorrow’s deadline.”
Mr Biden projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided, tell reporters after a speech at the National Institutes of Health that he had spoken to the two Senate leaders and that “there is a plan in place, unless someone decides to be totally erratic”.
Senior Democrats and Republicans in Congress welcomed the spending deal, saying it would give them more time to resolve outstanding disputes and approve longer-term legislation to fund the government next year. The vote in the House came just hours after leaders announced a bicameral deal.
“While I wish the February 18 end date was sooner, and I looked for dates earlier, I believe this agreement allows the crediting process to move forward to a final funding agreement that meets the needs of the American people, ”said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
While lawmakers have long conceded that they needed more time to negotiate the dozen bills that would fund the government for the full fiscal year, the interim plan had become rife with partisan disagreements over its duration and any additional funding proposals that might be associated with this.
Since the short-term legislation maintains existing funding levels, it will effectively codify spending levels negotiated with the Trump administration until mid-February. Democrats had only pushed for it until the end of January, as they are eager to enact their own funding levels and priorities while controlling the White House and both houses of Congress.
Faced with Republicans’ objections, Democrats also abandoned their efforts to avert billions of dollars in impending cuts to medicare, farm subsidies and other programs.
The two sides agreed to provide $ 7 billion to Afghan evacuees who fled the country after the Taliban regained control and US troops withdrew. The additional funding includes approximately $ 4.3 billion for the Department of Defense to deal with evacuees on military bases, $ 1.3 billion for the State Department and $ 1.3 billion for a division from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide relocation and other services including emergency housing and English classes.
House Republicans, however, opposed the spending measure, known as the Continuing Resolution, almost unanimously.
“While I’m sure President Trump will be all too excited to see his latest budget continue for almost a year after he leaves office, there is still real work to be done,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Perhaps what is most frustrating has been how the majority failed to reach a relatively straightforward deal on this particular continuing resolution.”
Across the Capitol, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement he was “glad we finally came to an agreement “.
But he cautioned against negotiating longer-term spending bills. He said if Democrats continue to push for policies Republicans oppose, such as lower levels of defense funding and the elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortions, “we will have the same conversation in February”.
It is not clear, however, whether other members of Mr Shelby’s party would allow the short-term spending bill to advance through the Senate in time to avoid a shutdown this weekend. Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas, both Republicans, led the campaign to cut mandate funding for vaccines.
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“I don’t want to shut down the government,” Lee said in a speech on the ground. “The only thing I want to shut down is congressional funding for the implementation of an immoral and unconstitutional vaccine mandate.”
Both senators said they would only allow the spending bill to move forward if their amendment could be put to a simple majority vote, rather than a 60-vote threshold vote, which is necessary to advance most important statutes in the Senate.
Given the partisan 50-50 split in the chamber, that would mean it would only take one Democrat joining Republicans to support the proposal, and West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III has suggested that he had not ruled out doing so. .
“I was very supportive of a mandate for the federal government, for the military, for all the people who work on the government payroll,” Manchin told reporters Thursday morning. “I have been less enthusiastic about this in the private sector.
Mr Manchin voted against a similar amendment in late September, just over a month before the Biden administration announced it would require all businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing.
Several high-ranking Republicans who opposed the mandate have warned the dispute is not worth the government shutdown, especially as the country faces a new variant of the coronavirus.
The requirement, which the Biden administration set to take effect in January, has become trapped in court challenges. In November, a federal appeals court upheld a deadlock and said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had overstepped its authority in enacting the rule.
“I don’t think shutting down the government on this issue is going to get any result,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, told Fox News. “It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best way to do this job.”
But it would only take one senator to file an objection to slow passage of the spending bill and force a cut in government funding.
“It’s so silly, that we have people who are anti-science, anti-vaccination, saying they are going to shut down the government for this,” President Nancy Pelosi said, visibly exasperated, at her press conference. weekly. “We’re not going to attack their anti-vaccine acts, okay? ”
“So if you think that’s how we’re going to keep government open,” she added, “forget it.”