WASHINGTON – The House passed a bill Thursday to fund the government through Feb. 18 as Congress tries to stave off a shutdown that could happen Friday if lawmakers don’t act.
The temporary spending bill will now head to the Senate, where it will need to pass by Friday night to avoid a shutdown, which would result in the furlough of thousands of workers.
The 221-212 vote in the House came after lawmakers struggled to come to an agreement on the measure, again causing a showdown over government funding just before a shutdown deadline. The short-term measure would give Congress time to work on a longer-term funding plan.
But the threat of a shutdown still looms. The bill could face complications in the Senate, where a group of Republicans are threatening to delay passage of the bill in the upper chamber because they want language in the bill that would prevent the use of federal money to carry out a Biden administration mandate on workplace vaccinations.
Biden announced last month a policy that large businesses (those with 100 or more employees) require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested. Noncompliant businesses could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation under an emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule made public this month and slated to take effect Jan. 4. The requirement is currently on hold due to several lawsuits.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said Thursday he and more than a dozen other senators planned to fight the edict, framing it as a fight over jobs and the economy.
The continuing resolution has the support of Democratic and Republican leaders, including GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. But Senate procedure allows individual lawmakers to delay a floor vote for at least a couple of days, imperiling the chances of meeting the midnight Friday deadline when government funding runs out and a partial shutdown begins.
“They left us this card and we’re planning on playing it,” Marshall said, referring to the ability to delay a vote on the bill.
Marshall and a few of his Republican colleagues want a vote on an amendment to defund the vaccine mandate at a 51-vote threshold. A simple majority vote is important in a Senate split 50-50 because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has not stated how he would vote on the amendment but has expressed caution on vaccine mandates.
“All we ask for is a simple up or down vote,” Utah Sen. Mike Lee, one of those Republicans, said Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized the GOP group’s demands, saying Thursday, “We’re not going to go for their anti-vaxxing. So, if you think that’s how we’re going to keep government open, forget that.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., was the lone Republican to vote with all Democrats for the resolution. Kinzinger, who recently announced he would not be seeking reelection, has bucked his party’s leadership on a number of votes, including most recently for passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
A shutdown would furlough hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal employees, such as clerks, custodial staff, park rangers and white-collar managers, forcing them to take time off without pay. Essential functions such as the military, law enforcement and air traffic control would continue. Federally funded agencies and facilities like the national parks, Smithsonian museums and IRS offices would close.
Although federal workers affected by the shutdown face a loss of pay, Congress has traditionally made sure those employees receive back pay.
The last government shutdown lasted 35 days, starting Dec. 21, 2018, when Donald Trump was president. It followed brief shutdowns in January and February 2018.
The extension is one of the major hurdles Congress needs to clear before they break for the holidays.
They still must address raising the debt ceiling to avoid sending the U.S. into default for the first time, and must pass a crucial national security package.