Republicans threaten government shutdown over vaccine mandates

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WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Republicans threatens to delay action against a spending bill needed to avoid a slump in federal funding on Friday unless it also enforces the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing mandate for large employers, eliminating the threat of government shutdown.

With Congress lagging behind in finalizing the 12 annual spending bills needed to keep the government going, it’s widely recognized that lawmakers need to take emergency action this week to avoid a shutdown.

But just two days before funding ends, Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree on how long the temporary measure should extend to 2022 and other details. Congressional leaders from both parties have downplayed the chances of a shutdown, but they admitted the funding deadline has increased the leverage of senators pushing their own individual agendas.

“If every member of this chamber were to use the threat of closure to compromise their own interests, it would create chaos for the millions upon millions of Americans who rely on a functioning government,” said New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer. York. and the leader of the majority.

“It’s up to leaders to make sure there’s no closure — I’ll make sure, and I think Leader McConnell wants to try that too,” he added, referring to Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and minority leader. .

On Tuesday, Mr McConnell said bluntly, “We will not close.”

Still, objections over the vaccine mandate have raised the prospect of at least a temporary cut in funding, marking the first hiccup for Senate Democrats in a chaotic month as they juggle efforts to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling. , a colossal military policy bill and enact their major domestic policy legislation of $2.2 trillion – all before Christmas Day.

“We will not support — and will use all means at our disposal to oppose — legislation that funds or in any way enables enforcement of President Biden’s employer vaccination mandate,” wrote a dozen Republican senators, led. by Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas, most recently. month in a letter to Mr Schumer. It was unclear on Wednesday how many of the signatories would remain steadfast in blocking the unfinished legislation.

The House Freedom Caucus, the right wing of the House Republican conference, wrote their own letter on Wednesday asking Mr. McConnell to “use all the procedural tools at his disposal to refuse timely approval” of the legislation.

The House could vote as early as Wednesday on a short-term spending bill that would keep the government open at least until the end of January, but aides warned it could be delayed as lawmakers spent all morning negotiating the end date.

“There is no interest in shutting down the government,” Connecticut Democrat Representative Rosa DeLauro and the chair of the credit committee, said on Wednesday. “We will reach an end point.”

As the emergency bill maintains existing funding and effectively freezes spending negotiated with the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Senate in 2020, Democrats are pushing to keep it as short as possible. But Republicans have pushed for an extension of the measure.

“I wish February, March would suit me — April, May,” said Alabama Senator Richard C. Shelby, the top Republican on the credit committee. “I think it gives us more time to get serious.”

Lawmakers also debated additional spending provisions, including additional funding for Afghan refugees and a provision that averts billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare, subsidies and other programs. But even if an agreement is reached, the Senate will need unanimous support to forgo some procedural steps and swiftly pass the legislation before Friday’s deadline.

Without unanimous agreement, the process could drag on into the weekend, necessitating a brief halt. Senate Republicans, with strong support from House Republicans, have threatened to extend the debate unless the bill bans funding for a mandate that all major employers require their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo weekly tests .

“I’ve long said I’m not particularly interested in the timing of any particular vote — whether it’s a few hours earlier or a few hours later,” Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz told reporters. “But I think we need to use the leverage we have to fight against what are illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate mandates.”

Mr Marshall earlier in September offered an amendment to an earlier emergency bill that would have banned money from going towards the execution and enforcement of the mandate, but it failed in the evenly divided Senate.

The mandate, which the Biden administration said would come into effect in January, has become mired in legal proceedings. Last month, a federal appeals court held a blockade in place, declaring that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had exceeded its authority in issuing it.

Some Republicans seemed wary of forcing a shutdown, however temporary, because of the issue.

“A shutdown is just a futile path,” said West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Democrats on Wednesday criticized Republicans for threatening to shut down the administration over policies aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic.

“The fact that they want a government shutdown over a public health issue should scare the American public,” said California Democrat Pete Aguilar. “That’s exactly what they’re advocating here.”

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