US averts government shutdown one day before deadline

A costly government shutdown was averted at midnight

Current government spending was set to expire at midnight on Friday. AFP

The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and averted a costly holiday season government shutdown.

With the clock ticking down to the 11:59pm deadline on Friday, the Senate voted by 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18 with a resolution that had already advanced from the House.

The “continuing resolution” avoids millions of public workers being sent home unpaid with Christmas approaching, causing parks, museums and other federal properties and services to close.

“I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed — the government will stay open,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

“And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown.”

A small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure due to objections over federal vaccine and testing mandates.

But Democrats agreed to allow a straight majority vote on defunding President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, which promptly failed as expected.

The right-wing Republican group, led by Utah's senior senator, Mike Lee, argued that the mandate is an assault on personal liberty.

Before the vote in the Senate, the US House of Representatives on Thursday passed the funding bill to keep the government operating.

Despite support for the stopgap from most Republican senators, a cluster led by Kansas Republican Roger Marshall, demanded a vote on an amendment that would block funding for the Covid-19 private-sector workplace mandates imposed by the Biden administration.

“We don’t want an economic shutdown,” Mr Marshall claimed on Thursday. “An unconstitutional federal vaccine mandate is going to lead to an economic shutdown.”

“I don’t think shutting down the government over that issue is going to get an outcome,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the vaccine mandate on Fox News on Thursday. “It would only create chaos and uncertainty.”

Mike Lee, a senator from Utah, walks to the Senate floor after threatening to force a government shutdown to block President Biden's vaccine mandate. EPA

He pointed to other ways the Biden administration could be forced to abandon its Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate, including a Senate vote as early as next week overturning it.

Mr McConnell later answered a question by CNN about his confidence in averting a shutdown: “We're not going to do that.”

Some House Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, called on the party to shut down the government to prevent enforcement of the federal vaccine requirement.

“We’re not going to go for their anti-vaxxing,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “If you think that’s how we’re going to keep government open, forget that.”

Updated: December 3rd 2021, 3:20 PM