Senate passes interim financing bill, avoiding closure
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate passed an interim spending bill that avoids a short-term shutdown and funds the federal government until Feb. 18 after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal mandates on vaccines. The measure now falls to President Joe Biden to be enacted.
Earlier Thursday, congressional leaders announced that they had finally come to an agreement for the government to continue operating for an additional 11 weeks, generally at current spending levels, while adding $ 7 billion to help evacuees d ‘Afghanistan.
Once the House voted to approve the measure, senators quickly announced a deal that would allow them to vote quickly.
“I’m glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed. The government will remain open and I thank the members of this chamber for bringing us back from the brink of an avoidable, unnecessary and costly closure, ”said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.
The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 69-28.
The Democratic-led House passed the measure by a vote of 221-212. The Republican leadership urged members to vote no; the only GOP vote for the bill came from Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Lawmakers lamented the short-term solution and blamed the opposing side for the lack of progress on this year’s spending bills. Representative Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the measure would, however, allow negotiations on a package covering the entire budget year through September.
“Make no mistake, a vote against this continuing resolution is a vote to shut down the government,” DeLauro said during the House debate.
Ahead of the votes, Biden said he spoke to Senate leaders and played down fears of a shutdown.
“There’s a plan in place unless someone decides to be totally erratic, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Biden said.
Some Republicans opposed to Biden’s vaccine rules wanted Congress to take a strong stance against mandatory shots for workers at large companies, even if that involved shutting down federal offices over the weekend by blocking a demand that would speed up a final vote on the spending bill.
This was just the latest example of the deadlock around government funding that has sparked several costly and partial closings over the past two decades. The longest shutdown in history came under President Donald Trump – 35 days until January 2019, when Democrats refused to approve money for his US-Mexico border wall. Both sides agree that shutdowns are irresponsible, but little time goes by without a late rush to avoid them.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Democrats knew last month that several Republicans would use whatever means at their disposal to oppose legislation that funds or enables the implementation of the employer’s vaccine mandate . He blamed Schumer for not negotiating and ignoring their position.
If the choice is between “suspending non-essential functions” or remaining inactive while Americans lose their ability to work, “I will stand with American workers every time,” Lee said.
Lee and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Drafted an amendment prohibiting the spending of federal dollars to implement and enforce a series of vaccine mandates put in place by the Biden administration. The amendment was rejected with 48 votes in favor and 50 against. But the vote opened the door to immediate consideration of the entire spending bill.
Lee said millions of people were forced to choose between having an unwanted medical procedure and losing their jobs.
“Their jobs are threatened by their own government,” Lee said.
“Let’s give employers the confidence and employees to have the peace of mind that they will still have a job this new year,” Marshall urged ahead of the vote.
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., Countered that the federal government should use all tools to keep Americans safe and that’s why the Biden administration has taken action to urge employers to make sure their workers are completely vaccinated or tested negative before they come to the workplace.
“No one wants to go to work and fear they will come home with a deadly virus,” Murray said.
The White House sees vaccinations as the fastest way to end a pandemic that has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and continues to evolve, as seen on Wednesday with the first case detected in the country of a disturbing new variant.
Courts have opposed the warrants, including a ruling this week blocking the application of a requirement for some healthcare workers.
For some Republicans, court cases and lawmakers’ fears about a potentially disruptive shutdown were factors against implementing a high-stakes shutdown.
“One of the things that concerns me a little is: Why would we be the object of public attention by creating the specter of a government shutdown? Said Texas Senator John Cornyn, a leader of the GOP.
The administration has pursued vaccine requirements for several groups of workers, but the effort faces legal setbacks.
A federal judge this week blocked the administration from applying a vaccination warrant to thousands of healthcare workers in 10 states. Previously, a federal appeals court temporarily suspended OSHA’s requirement affecting employers with 100 or more workers.
The administration also has policies in place requiring millions of federal employees and federal contractors, including military troops, to be fully immunized. These efforts are also called into question.
An Associated Press poll shows Americans are divided over Biden’s efforts to vaccinate workers, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor while most Republicans are against.
Some Republicans prefer an effort by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., To vote to reject administration mandates in congressional review action expected next week, separate from the fight for funding.
Separately, some health care providers protested the interim spending measure. Hospitals say it is doing nothing to protect them from Medicare payment cuts expected to take effect amid uncertainty over the new variant of omicron.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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