WASHINGTON – A group of Senate Republicans threaten to delay action on a spending bill needed to avoid a cut in federal funding on Friday, unless it also prohibits the application of the Biden administration’s mandate in vaccines and testing for large employers, increasing the threat of a government shutdown.
As Congress delays finalizing the dozen annual spending bills needed to run government, there is broad agreement that lawmakers will need to take an interim measure this week to avoid a shutdown.
But just two days before the funding expires, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over how long the temporary measure is expected to run until 2022 and other details. Congressional leaders from both parties publicly downplayed the chances of a shutdown, but admitted on Wednesday that the funding deadline had increased lawmakers’ influence over their own agendas.
“If every member of this chamber used the threat of closure to gain concessions on their own interests, it would lead to chaos for the millions upon millions of Americans who depend on a functioning government,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. and the majority leader.
“It’s up to the leaders to make sure there is no stopping – I make sure, and I think the leader McConnell wants to try to make sure that too,” he added. , referring to Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the Minority. leader.
On Tuesday, McConnell said categorically: âWe will not be closing. “
Yet objections to the vaccine’s mandate threatened already busy bipartisan talks and raised the prospect of at least a temporary disruption in funding, presenting the first hiccup for Senate Democrats in a chaotic month. They are juggling efforts to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, complete a massive military policy bill, and enact their $ 2.2 trillion national policy legislation, all before Christmas.
Republicans have said the spending bill gives them their best chance of pushing back vaccine requirements that President Biden announced in November. They seemed to appreciate the political message they could send to their constituents by forcing the government to shut down, even as the nation grapples with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
“I think this is the fight – this is where we have the most leverage to accomplish the end of the term,” said Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, one of the leading Republicans pushing for the provision. . “I think the people back home want to know how hard we fight for them, that jobs back home are as important as keeping the federal government open.”
On Wednesday, the far-right House Freedom Caucus wrote to Mr McConnell, asking him to use “every procedural tool at your disposal to deny the timely passage” of the legislation.
The push presented a conundrum for Mr McConnell, a polio survivor who for months has made a point of defending coronavirus vaccines and battling misinformation from other Republicans who have questioned their efficiency. And while several Republicans railed against the mandates imposed by the Biden administration, some seemed reluctant to force the case to close.
âI think the vast majority of Republicans wouldn’t like to see a shutdown, but I don’t think it would include everyone,â said Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. “And all it takes is one person.”
West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said “a stop is just an unnecessary road.”
Interim legislation has remained in limbo as lawmakers haggle over an end date and a provision avoiding billions of dollars in cuts to medicare, subsidies and other programs. Plans to vote on the measure on Wednesday were delayed by a day, but lawmakers and their aides insisted there was still time to avoid a funding cutoff.
“There is no point in shutting down the government,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chair of the Credit Committee. “We will come to an end point.”
Since the interim bill maintains existing funding, effectively freezing spending levels negotiated with the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Senate in 2020, Democrats are pushing to make it as brief as possible. But Republicans pushed to extend the measure.
“I wish February, March was fine for me – April, May,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the credits committee. “I think that gives us more time to seriously sit down.”
Lawmakers were also debating additional spending provisions, including increased funding for Afghan refugees. But even if a deal is reached, the Senate will need unanimous support to forgo a number of procedural steps and swiftly pass the legislation before Friday’s deadline.
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Without unanimous agreement, the process could drag on throughout the weekend, forcing a brief shutdown that would quickly become disastrous for workers and federal agencies early in the week. Senate Republicans, with strong backing from House Republicans, have threatened to prolong debate unless the bill prohibits funding a mandate that all major employers require their workers to be vaccinated against coronavirus or get tested weekly.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that I’m not particularly invested in the timing of any given vote – whether it’s a few hours earlier or a few hours later,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters. “But I think we should use the leverage we have to fight against what are illegal, unconstitutional and abusive mandates.”
Mr Marshall proposed in September an amendment to an earlier interim bill that would have prevented funds from going to the implementation and execution of the mandate, but he failed in the equally divided Senate. Some Republicans have expressed optimism that a similar amendment vote this week could appease their colleagues.
The warrant, which the Biden administration said would take effect in January, has become trapped in court challenges. In November, a federal appeals court upheld a blockage and said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had exceeded its authority in issuing it.
Democrats on Wednesday criticized Republicans for threatening to shut down the government over a policy to stem the spread of the pandemic.
“The fact that they want to go as far as shutting down the government for a public health issue should scare the American public,” said Representative Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California. “That is exactly what they are advocating here.”