Wednesday, January 19, 2022

House of Representatives votes to prevent closure, but rapid Senate approval raises doubts

WASHINGTON (AP) – On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that funds the government until February 18 and avoids a short-term shutdown after midnight Friday, but quick Senate approval has been questioned amid controversy over President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination demands. …

The agreement between the leaders of Congress, announced earlier in the day, will allow the government to operate for another 11 weeks, usually at current spending levels, as well as add $ 7 billion to aid evacuees from Afghanistan.

The House, led by Democrats, passed the bill with 221-212 votes. Republican leadership urged members to vote against; The only GOP vote on the bill came from Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

Lawmakers bemoaned the short-term fix and blamed the opposing side for not making progress on spending bills this year. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the move would nevertheless allow negotiations on a package covering the rest of the fiscal year through September.

“Make no mistake, voting against this ongoing resolution is a vote to close the government,” DeLauro said during a House debate.

Before the House of Representatives made its decision, President Joe Biden said he had spoken with Senate leaders and that he had downplayed concerns about the closure.

“There is a plan if someone doesn’t decide to act in a totally unpredictable way, and I don’t think that will happen,” Biden said.

Conservative Republicans opposing Biden’s vaccine rules want Congress to take a tough line against sanctioned layoffs at large factories, even if that means closing federal offices over the weekend.

It was just the latest example of balancing on the brink of government funding, resulting in several costly shutdowns and partial closings over the past two decades. The longest stop in history came under President Donald Trump – 35 days until January 2019, when Democrats refused to approve money to build his border wall between the United States and Mexico. Both sides agree that stoppages are irresponsible, but few deadlines go by without a belated struggle to avoid them.

Republicans said during a debate that they made it clear in the summer that they would not support spending bills, which include “irresponsible spending increases and extreme policies.”

“Unfortunately, this is where we ended up,” said Rep. Kay Granger, Texas.

The Democrats were able to use their majority to pay the bill. They face a bigger challenge in the 50-50 Senate, where objections from just one senator could slow the final vote past midnight Friday. This could mean a short outage before the weekend.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah said Democrats learned in a letter last month that several Republicans will use whatever means at their disposal to oppose legislation that finances or enforces an employer’s vaccination mandate. He accused Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, of not negotiating and ignoring their position.

If the choice is between “suspending non-essential functions” or doing nothing when Americans lose the ability to work, “I will always support American workers,” Lee said.

GOP senators said the idea is to vote to seize money that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will use to meet the requirement that private employers with 100 or more workers provide vaccinations or regular testing.

“This is a chance to correct the mistake,” said Senator Roger Marshall, a Republican from Canada who has made a similar effort against vaccine demands during the latest government funding standoff.

Schumer said that “this deal was not easy to reach,” and that while most Republicans are reluctant to stop, “several individual Republican senators seem determined to derail this important law because of their opposition to the president’s recommendations on life-saving vaccines.” …

“Let’s be clear: if there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican anti-vaccination shutdown,” Schumer said.

The White House sees vaccinations as the fastest way to end the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 780,000 people in the United States and continues to evolve, as seen on Wednesday with the first case of an alarming new variant identified in the country.

Courts have rejected mandates, including a ruling this week banning enforcement for some medical professionals.

For some Republicans, lawsuits and legislators’ concerns about a potentially devastating shutdown are factors against participating in the high-stakes shutdown.

“One of the things that bothers me a little is why should we make ourselves the object of public attention by creating the specter of a government shutdown?” said Texas Senator John Cornin, leader of the GOP.

“There is too much chaos in our country now, too much anxiety about the omicron. The last thing we need is more confusion and fear, ”said Senator Mitt Romney, Rhode Utah.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, reiterated that there would be no stoppage.

“We’re not going to do that,” he said Thursday.

The administration is pushing for vaccine requirements for several groups of workers, but these efforts are facing legislative obstacles.

This week, a federal judge barred the administration from banning the vaccination of thousands of healthcare workers in 10 states. Earlier, a federal appeals court temporarily overturned OSHA’s requirement for employers with 100 or more employees.

The administration has also put in place a policy requiring the complete vaccination of millions of federal employees and federal contractors, including military personnel. These efforts are also under threat.

An Associated Press poll shows Americans are divided over Biden’s efforts to vaccinate workers, with the vast majority of Democrats in favor while most Republicans are opposed.

Some Republicans prefer Senator Mike Brown, Indiana, to vote to reject the administration’s mandates in a congressional review expected next week, apart from the funding competition.

Separately, some health care providers have challenged the interim spending measure. Hospitals say they are not protecting them from Medicare cuts due to take effect amid uncertainties over the new omicron option.

Associated Press employee Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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