House and Senate leaders announce government funding deal as they rush to avoid shutdown

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WASHINGTON – House and Senate leaders announced on Thursday that they have reached a deal to fund the federal government until next year, even as a growing GOP-led revolt against the president’s vaccine policies Joe Biden was threatening to shut down the government anyway.

The day started on a positive political note, after leading Democrats and Republicans waved a new bipartisan pact that would support federal agencies and operations until mid-February. If passed by both houses of Congress, the measure would narrowly avoid a shutdown which is expected to take place at midnight Friday.

But the prospects for an easy and quick resolution soon became uncertain. The House held a vote on the stopgap funding Thursday afternoon, but the Senate remained crippled by partisan bickering, as Tories mounted a new political stance against the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus.

For the second day in a row, a group of Republicans led by Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas threatened to suspend the government funding measure to protest a presidential directive that orders large employers to demand vaccines or implement comprehensive test programs. Even though public health experts view these policies as essential to tackling the pandemic, GOP lawmakers have accused Biden’s mandates of being unconstitutional and threatening the rights and jobs of Americans.

“We have seen during this pandemic, Democrats get very comfortable being petty bullies and decree that you must obey their medical mandates,” said GOP Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has played a leading role in prompting at least one closure in the past.

To rush the bill through the Senate and pass it by midnight Friday, chamber heads need the full support of Marshall, Cruz, and others. Seeking to exert their considerable influence, they have said in recent days that they are open to a compromise – allowing the fundraising bill to proceed quickly in exchange for a vote on an amendment that would fund federal enforcement of the policies of the government. vaccine and test.

Still, Democratic and Republican leaders Thursday at noon had not signaled whether they were prepared to allow such an amendment, which the Tories said they wanted to be set at a threshold of 51 votes for adoption. Adding to political uncertainty, Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., unexpectedly signaled an openness to supporting such a GOP-led vaccine amendment, even though he opposed a similar effort offered. by Republicans earlier this fall. This vote took place before the president announced his vaccine and testing policy targeting private companies.

“I was very supportive of a mandate for the federal government, for the military, for all the people who work on a government payroll,” Manchin said. “I have been less enthusiastic about this in the private sector. So we are working on all of this.

The Senate scramble only increased the chances that the country could embark on a short-term shutdown this weekend, an outcome both sides insisted on for days they did not really want. The growing possibility prompted Biden to engage Senate leaders directly on Thursday, after which he told reporters he still believes a shutdown won’t happen.

“We have everything in place to be able to make sure there is no stopping,” Biden said.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, some Republicans even seemed frustrated with the difficult political situation created by their own party – especially since the fundraising bill has the votes it needs to pass.

“We know that at the end of the day we are going to fund the government,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Appropriation Panel and one of the architects of the new deal. funding.

In the process, Shelby said lawmakers faced an urgent political choice: “Do we do it before midnight tomorrow?” Or do we lay it down for a few days and get the same result. “

There have been many government shutdowns in the past, although each is different. For the most part, many government operations continue during a funding term. Social Security and Medicare benefits don’t stop, and the Postal Service continues to deliver the mail. Military operations also continue.

But there are major disruptions during a shutdown. National parks often close, although the Trump administration tried to keep them open during a long shutdown several years ago in a way that some budget experts say violated federal law. Passport applications may be delayed and foreign embassies may restrict services. Federal agencies are suspending many services deemed non-essential, which can impact tax returns, among other things.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are fired home without pay during a shutdown, and hundreds of thousands more may be forced to continue working without pay. Outages that go on for long periods of time can be extremely disruptive to households and even businesses.

The new funding proposal, known as the Continuing Resolution, covers federal operations until February 18 – when lawmakers must either pass another short-term deal or complete their work on about a dozen projects. Longer-term appropriation act that funds the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2022.

Democrats and Republicans have also included in the stopgap an additional $ 7 billion to help Afghan evacuees. But they generally failed to address a slew of unresolved policies they had hoped to address as part of the continuing resolution, a reflection of tense talks that delayed a vote on government funding for days.

“While I wish it had been earlier, this agreement allows the crediting process to move forward towards a final funding agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, D- Conn., Head of the House Appropriations Committee. .

Shelby then offered her own blessings: “I’m glad we’ve finally come to an agreement on continuing the resolution. Now we must take the completion seriously [fiscal year 2022] invoices. “

Those fights coming into February are likely to be fierce, as Democrats hope to meet Biden’s budget targets, spending more money on areas such as health and education, while Republicans hope to cut those amounts and devote more resources. at the Pentagon. Democrats and Republicans have also clashed over a slew of political articles, including the fate of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortion – a provision Democrats hope to remove despite steadfast objections of the GOP.

In the meantime, House leaders have taken the first steps to bring the short-term funding measure to the ground for a vote on Thursday that Democrats are expected to pass. But the Senate found itself facing a long debate, as speeding up the process to pass the bill before midnight Friday requires the support of a small crop of Republicans who still refuse to give in.

Taking the chamber upstairs, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, lambasted Biden’s vaccine and testing policies targeting companies as unconstitutional. He slammed Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, DN.Y., pointing out that the Tories had made it clear for weeks that they were planning to push an effort to fund mandates as part of the federal funding debate. next year.

“I don’t want to shut down the government,” Lee said. “The only thing I want to shut down is congressional funding for the implementation of an immoral and unconstitutional vaccine mandate.”

Schumer, for his part, expressed his hope earlier Thursday that “colder heads will prevail on the other side.” He praised the bipartisan work that resulted in the new deal to fund the government until February, adding the potential for obstruction: “If there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican anti-vaccine shutdown.”

Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Meanwhile insisted that dissenting lawmakers would eventually align. “We are not going to shut down the government,” he told Fox News. “It doesn’t make sense to anyone. Hardly anyone on either side thinks this is a good idea.

Tyler Pager of the Washington Post contributed to this report.

The US Capitol as seen on May 8, 2019 (Carlos Bongioanni / Stars and Stripes)

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