A handful of Senate Republicans are threatening to shut down the government as early as midnight Friday amid standoff over a mandate from the Biden administration to vaccinate or test COVID-19 for some workers.
On Thursday, congressional leaders reached agreement on a temporary spending bill to fund the government until mid-February. But in order to get it to the president’s desk before the Friday night deadline, all 100 senators would need to agree to speed up the Senate’s legislative hours.
A group of GOP senators have pledged to block this consensus agreement unless they are given a vote on an amendment to remove the vaccine mandate. If they maintain their position, it is likely that the government will temporarily halt its activities.
But the hiatus in government funding is likely to only last a few days until the Senate can complete the required deliberation hours. After the required time has passed, the funding bill is likely to be quickly approved, allowing the government to reopen it.
If the shutdown lasts only a few days, it is unlikely to significantly affect government operations or require the termination of federal employees. However, even brief blackouts increase the uncertainty of federal operations, and many senators, even when they are in the minority, are reluctant to take risks if Congress fails to meet one of its core demands.
“Several individual Republican senators seem determined to derail this important law because of their opposition to the presidential guidelines for creating life-saving vaccines critical to healing our nation in the midst of a pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Sumer (DN .Y.). “Let’s be clear: if there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican anti-vaccination shutdown.”
The Republican group, led by Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas, say they warned weeks ago they would not be helping pass legislation that strengthens the vaccine demand. They said Sumer should have started the process a few days ago to get through legislative hoops without their backing.
“After the time ran out deliberately, deliberately, did not come to the negotiating table and ignored our clear public position, Senator Schumer now accuses us of wanting to close the government because we refuse to help him get the bill through. we have already stated that we are against, ”said Lee.
Republicans, backed by the House of Freedom conservative faction, hope to mobilize political opposition to the Biden administration’s demands for vaccines, which require vaccinations or weekly testing. In some cases, courts have blocked compliance with vaccination requirements for workers.
“Requiring vaccinations will cause hundreds of thousands of Kansasians to lose their jobs,” Marshall said of the people in his home state. “This is an economic halt. It’s not just about closing the government. ”
Not all Republicans agree with the closure strategy. The Republican leadership supports a short-term funding plan, pointing out a hurdle in the courts. In addition, the Senate is expected to vote next week on a motion to block the mandate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, predicted on Fox News Thursday that he has a “decent chance” of getting through the Senate. While Biden could veto the measure, Republicans would consider the roll-call a victory.
The White House has touted vaccines as a way to end the pandemic, especially in the face of the country’s first case of an Omicron variant found in San Francisco.
Lee calls for a vote on his amendment when the majority threshold is reached. Due to piracy and its frequent use by both parties to block legislation, most laws or amendments are limited to 60 votes. It is unknown how a vote on the vaccine amendment could lead to a majority threshold in a highly divided Senate.
Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) did not rule out support for the GOP revocation amendment.
“I was very supportive of the mandate of the federal government, the military, all the people who work with government payrolls,” he said Thursday. “In the private sector, I am less enthusiastic about it.”
Brief government shutdowns have happened before, and often Congress leaders waited until the last minute to reach an agreement and hoped that all senators would agree to move at a later time. Since a single senator is enough to block the agreement, individual legislators have occasionally resorted to a powerful tool to express their point of view.
In 2018, Senator Rand Paul (Republican of Kentucky) briefly suspended his operations due to fears of a shortage. More significant blackouts occurred in 2013 over Obamacare and in 2018 over former President Trump’s border wall.
The House of Representatives is expected to approve the spending bill on Thursday. From there he will go to the Senate.
A spending agreement drafted by congressional leaders will keep funding at 2020 levels until February 18. Democrats wanted to shorten the time because they don’t want to live at the level agreed by Trump for longer than necessary. But to get around them, they would have to negotiate new funding levels with Republicans for the rest of the year.