The Senate on Thursday passed a measure to fund the government through Feb. 18 after first defeating an amendment that would have eliminated the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates.
The funding bill was approved by a 69-28 vote in the upper chamber after it passed the House earlier Thursday and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk ahead of a Dec. 3 deadline.
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Democrats and Republicans compromised on the terms of the bill. Republicans won an extension to Feb. 18, which is later than Democrats had wanted. Democrats included an additional $7 billion for the resettlement of Afghanistan refugees, which Republicans opposed because the money was not accompanied by additional vetting safeguards.
The bill passed the Senate after Democratic leaders struck a deal with a group of Senate Republicans who said they would block swift passage of the bill in protest of Biden’s mandate that federal workers and employees of large businesses get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The amendment, authored by Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, would prohibit federal funds from being used to implement or enforce vaccine mandates.
Marshall was among a group of Republican senators led by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who last month warned they would block swift passage and vote to defeat government funding in order to stand in the way of the mandate.
Lee urged lawmakers Thursday to vote to end the mandate. It has been put on hold in some states following court challenges, and the administration has suspended enforcement for private businesses.
“If you don’t want to get the virus, get the vaccine,” Lee said Thursday. “But the answer to someone not agreeing with your medical advice is not to fire you, and it sure as heck isn’t to have the president of the United States fine every employer in America that doesn’t want to do this, whether they have religious objections or otherwise. This is wrong, we know it’s wrong, and we can stop this right now.”
Republicans control only 50 votes, and no Democrats voted for the Marshall amendment, effectively killing it in a 50-48 vote. Two GOP senators were absent.
Enough Republicans then voted with Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the spending bill. Both parties were anxious to avoid even a temporary partial government shutdown.
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The legislation buys Congress 11 more weeks to work out a deal on yearlong spending. The two parties have been hung up on spending levels for defense and domestic programs as well as “poison pill” provisions that Democrats hope to include, among them a provision that would allow taxpayer funding for abortion.
While the House was able to pass a majority of the fiscal 2022 spending bills with a Democratic majority, Senate passage requires GOP cooperation. The two parties remain far apart, however, and that has fueled talk of Congress simply leaving fiscal 2021 spending and policy in place until October 2022.
Republicans have criticized Democrats for writing legislation without cooperating with Republicans and including provisions and spending levels they know can’t make it past a GOP filibuster. Democrats say the GOP is refusing to negotiate at all.
“We have a job to do, and the bill we will soon vote on gives us roughly two months to do it,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said. “That is plenty of time. But the Republican leadership needs to step up and engage, and they need to do it in the next few weeks. Otherwise, we will be right back here on Feb. 18.”