Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left, leave a private GOP lunch meeting as Lee continues to press for a vote on his proposal barring vaccine mandates that the Biden administration has ordered.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left, leave a private GOP lunch meeting as Lee continues to press for a vote on his proposal barring vaccine mandates that the Biden administration has ordered. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

House Passes Shutdown-Averting Stopgap Spending Bill, Which Now Faces Uncertain Future

Some senators are threatening to disrupt the process over COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The House on Thursday approved 221-212 a stopgap spending bill that would delay a government shutdown until at least mid-February, though hurdles remain with less than two days before agencies are forced to shutter. 

The 10-week continuing resolution passed despite Republican leadership in the House urging its members to oppose the bill and uncertainty over when the measure can clear the Senate and head to President Biden’s desk. The vote came only after lengthy negotiations and a breakthrough agreement Thursday morning. Democrats had pushed to keep agencies funded at fiscal 2021 levels only through January while Republicans had sought a longer bill, but the two sides reached a compromise for a CR through Feb. 18. 

The measure now heads to the Senate, where conservative members have threatened to delay a vote until after current funding expires late Friday evening. Those senators are seeking to block funding for the implementation of President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates and have vowed to prevent the necessary rapid consideration of the spending bill until their concerns are addressed. 

They have floated a way out of the standoff, saying they would allow for quick passage of the CR provided there is a vote on an amendment to block implementation of the vaccine mandates. They are demanding, however, that the amendment require only a simple majority to pass. Senate leadership had not said as of Thursday afternoon if it would accede to those demands. If even one senator objects to the expedited schedule for consideration of the stopgap, lawmakers will miss their deadline and agencies will—at least briefly—be forced to shut down. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of those seeking to block vaccine mandate enforcement, said on the Senate floor his goal was not to shut down the government. 

"The only thing I want to shut down is enforcement of an immoral, unconstitutional vaccine mandate," Lee said. 

Biden on Thursday expressed confidence that would not occur. 

“We have everything in place to be able to make sure there is not a shutdown, unless some individual [prompts one],” Biden said. “I spoke with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, [R-Ky.], I spoke with [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, [D-N.Y.]. There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic, and I don't think that will happen. So I don't think there will be a shutdown.”

Earlier in the day, Schumer was less optimistic. 

“This is a good compromise that allows an appropriate amount of time for both parties in both chambers to finish negotiations on appropriations,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, it seems Republican dysfunction could be a roadblock to averting an unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown.” The majority leader added he hoped “cooler heads will prevail.”

Democrats said the stopgap spending bill, once agreed to, will keep pressure on Republicans to come to an agreement on full-year fiscal 2022 appropriations because it contains few “anomalies” that lawmakers use in CRs to provide extra funding for pressing issues. The measure does include $7 billion for resettlement of Afghan evacuees. The two parties have yet to agree on the top-line spending totals that would make up the defense and non-defense portions of the fiscal 2022 budget, stymying negotiators from finalizing the 12 individual appropriations bills Congress must pass each year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., implored her colleagues to come together for a full year omnibus funding bill by February and warned anyone who voted against the interim measure. 

"Make no mistake, a vote against this continuing resolution is a vote to shut the government down," DeLauro said. 

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