The House has voted to fund the government through February, but the possibility of a government shutdown still looms large as a group of Republican senators threaten to delay a vote on the spending bill in protest of President Joe Biden’s efforts to increase vaccinations.
House and Senate leaders struck a deal Thursday morning to fund the government through Feb. 18 and avoid a shutdown. Government funding runs out at midnight on Friday.
If this short-term spending measure were passed by the Senate and signed by Biden, it would keep government funding at current levels — with an additional $7 billion for Afghan refugees — until Congress negotiates longer-term appropriations bills.
The deal is a major step forward in avoiding a government shutdown, but tensions are still mounting the Senate. Some conservative Republicans are protesting an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring employees of large firms to get vaccinated against or be tested weekly for COVID-19. The rule is supposed to take effect in January, but Republican officials have challenged it in court.
There aren’t enough senators who oppose funding the government to actually tank the spending bill, but it would only take one Republican to delay the vote. Any objections to a quick vote on a funding bill would likely result in a partial government shutdown this weekend.
“Anti-science Republicans are demanding a choice between a return to the unchecked spread of Covid we had under the previous Administration and the bungled, self-destructive governance that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said in a statement.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a physician who previously joined other Republican medical professionals in promoting COVID-19 vaccines, is leading the shutdown threats and arguing that vaccines mandates are “wrong.”
“When a third of people are refusing to get the vaccines, this federal vaccination mandate would cause our economy to be shut down,” Marshall told HuffPost.
However, the OSHA rule is not a true vaccine mandate, as it allows workers to opt for getting tested instead.
More than a dozen of Marshall’s colleagues threatened a government shutdown over the OSHA rule in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this year. The letter specifically stated that the lawmakers would object to the kind of short-term funding bill that Republican and Democratic leaders have now agreed to.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave assurances this week that there shouldn’t be any concerns about a government shutdown. He now has the task of getting all his members in line to avoid any delays, as even a very short shutdown can disrupt some federal workforce.