Funding bill to avoid US shutdown wins Senate support after vaccine standoff

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A bill to fund the US government through mid-February gained the support of enough members of the Senate late on Thursday to win passage and prevent a partial shutdown of federal agencies at the end of this week after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal vaccine mandates.

The vote late evening came after some Republican senators threatened to block the process in order to voice their opposition to the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements.

Senators voted on an amendment to defund the federal vaccine mandate, which ultimately failed, clearing the way for the passage of the short-term funding bill.

The measure, which was approved by lawmakers in the House earlier in the day, will keep the federal government funded for the next two and a half months.

The measure now goes to Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Related: Biden announces plan to get booster shots to 100m Americans amid Omicron arrival in US

The need for vaccine mandates, which have been introduced by Joe Biden, has taken on additional importance as the US braces for the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The plot by Republican senators to undermine the vaccine mandate came after some Republican states have already sought to diminish mandates, by expanding unemployment benefits for employees who have been fired or quit over the requirement to get the vaccine.

On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of rightwing Republicans in the House of Representatives, urged their Senate colleagues to block the funding bill, also known as a continuing resolution, “unless it prohibits funding – in all respects – for the vaccine mandates and enforcement thereof”.

In a letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, the House Freedom Caucus said that the Friday deadline gave their Senate colleagues “important leverage” to prevent funding for mandates.

Biden introduced vaccine mandates, which require employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, for federal workers and contractors in July.

In September, Biden ordered healthcare workers to be vaccinated and companies with 100 workers or more to require Covid-19 vaccines or testing, which the government said would cover more than 100 million employees.

Those measures have been put on hold by court rulings, after Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations sued to stop the regulations.

Earlier Thursday, congressional leaders announced they had finally reached an agreement to keep the government running for 11 more weeks, generally at current spending levels, while adding $7bn to aid Afghanistan evacuees.

Once the House voted to approve the measure, senators soon announced an agreement that would allow them to vote on it quickly.

“I am glad that in the end, cooler heads prevailed. The government will stay open and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 69-28.

The Democratic-led House passed the measure by a 221-212 vote. The Republican leadership urged members to vote no.

The lone GOP vote for the bill came from Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the special House committee investigating the insurrection at the US Capitol by extremist supporters of Donald Trump.

Lawmakers bemoaned the short-term fix and blamed the opposing party for the lack of progress on this year’s spending bills. Representative Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House appropriations committee, said the measure would, however, allow for negotiations on a package covering the full budget year through September.

“Make no mistake, a vote against this continuing resolution is a vote to shut government down,” DeLauro said during the House debate.

Before the votes, Biden said he had spoken with Senate leaders and he played down fears of a shutdown.

“There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic, and I don’t think that will happen,” Biden said.

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