WASHINGTON - The House is expected to vote on legislation Thursday that would prevent a partial government shutdown starting this weekend but a band of Senate Republicans is threatening to hold up the bill for days.
The temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, would keep government operations open through Feb. 18 while Congress works on a longer-term deal. The bill has the blessing of the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee - Richard Shelby of Alabama - who said Thursday he was "pleased that we have finally reached an agreement."
But the threat of a shutdown still looms because 15 Republican senators led by Roger Marshall of Kansas want language included in the bill that would prevent the use of federal money to carry out a Biden administration mandate on workplace vaccinations.
Biden announced last month a policy that large businesses (those with 100 or more employees) require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested. Noncompliant businesses could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation under an emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule made public this month and slated to take effect Jan. 4. The requirement is currently on hold due to several lawsuits.
Marshall said Thursday he and more than a dozen other senators still plan to fight the edict, framing it as a fight over jobs and the economy.
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"What I'm hearing from my folks here is the battle's still on," the senator told Newsmax, a conservative news outlet. "We're still fighting for hardworking Americans. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, others and myself are still fighting to prevent any of these mandates, these unconstitutional federal vaccine mandates, from going through if that means shutting down the government for a weekend."
The continuing resolution has the support of Democratic and Republican leaders, including GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. But Senate procedure allows individual lawmakers to delay a floor vote for at least a couple of days, imperiling the chances of meeting the midnight Friday deadline when government funding runs out and a partial shutdown begins.
"They left us this card and we're planning on playing it," Marshall said, referring to the ability to delay a vote on the bill.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized the GOP group's demands, saying Thursday, "We're not going to go for their anti-vaxxing. So, if you think that's how we're going to keep government open, forget that."
A shutdown would furlough hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal employees, such as clerks, custodial staff, park rangers and white-collar managers, forcing them to take time off without pay. Essential functions such as the military, law enforcement and air traffic control would continue. Federally funded agencies and facilities like the national parks, Smithsonian museums and IRS offices would close.
Although federal workers affected by the shutdown face a loss of pay, Congress has traditionally made sure those employees receive back pay.
The last government shutdown lasted 35 days, starting Dec. 21, 2018, when Donald Trump was president. It followed brief shutdowns in January and February 2018.
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The extension is one of the major hurdles Congress needs to clear before they break for their holiday break.
They still must address raising the debt ceiling to avoid sending the U.S. into default for the first time, and must pass a crucial national security package.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Government shutdown looms: House plans vote on spending bill Thursday