WASHINGTON – Both chambers of Congress passed a bill on Thursday to fund the government through Feb. 18, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown before a Friday deadline.
The Senate voted 69-28 late Thursday to pass the short-term measure that the House approved hours earlier. The measure, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign, gives Congress several more weeks to work on a longer-term funding plan covering the entire fiscal year.
A group of Republican senators nearly forced a shutdown after they threatened to delay passage of the bill in the upper chamber. They wanted language preventing the use of federal money to carry out a Biden administration mandate on workplace vaccinations, but the amendment to do that failed 48-50.
Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, who introduced the amendment along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the president’s order will displace a significant number of workers.
“This is about jobs in Kansas. It’s about jobs in Texas, in Utah, across the nation,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill before the vote. “An unconstitutional federal vaccine mandate’s going to lead to an economic shutdown, jobs lost back home.”
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. The requirement is currently on hold due to several lawsuits.
“I am glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed,” Schumer said of the vote to keep the government open. “The government will stay open.”
Hours before, the House voted 221-212 to pass the short-term funding measure. The vote was almost entirely along party lines with Adam Kinzinger of Illinois the only Republican to join the Democrats in passing the measure.
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.”
A shutdown would have furloughed 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 have continued. Federally funded agencies and facilities like the national parks, Smithsonian museums and IRS offices would have close.
Although federal workers affected by a 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.
Congress nearly had a shutdown in September, when they passed a government funding plan just hours before a shutdown would have gone into effect. That bill was held up over stalled negotiations to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, also known as the debt ceiling.
The extension is one of the major hurdles Congress needed 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.