Government Shutdown Still Looms as House Passes Spending Bill

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WASHINGTON — A divided House on Thursday approved legislation to keep the government funded through mid-February as senators scrambled to avoid a shutdown over the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing mandate for large employers.

With less than 36 hours before funding was set to lapse, the House voted 221 to 212 to keep the government open through Feb. 18 and provide $7 billion for the care and resettlement of Afghan refugees. Just one Republican, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, joined Democrats in voting for the measure.

The fate of the legislation was uncertain in the Senate, where unanimity would be needed to expedite its passage before a midnight deadline on Friday. A few Republicans warned that they would object unless they were granted a vote on an amendment that would bar funding for carrying out President Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate for the private sector.

By Thursday evening, a resolution to the standoff appeared within reach. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, declared that plans to vote that night on the spending measure were “looking very good,” though he did not offer details. A successful vote on the measure would clear the way for Mr. Biden to sign it and avert a government shutdown beginning this weekend.

Leaders in both parties warned against a shutdown and urged their colleagues to find alternative ways to register their opposition to the vaccine mandate. Multiple aides noted that the Senate was already on track to vote later this month on a Republican bid to roll back the rule.

Mr. Biden projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided, telling reporters after a speech at the National Institutes of Health that he had spoken to both Senate leaders and that “there is a plan in place, unless somebody decides to be totally erratic.”

Senior Democrats and Republicans in Congress hailed the spending agreement, saying it would afford them more time to resolve outstanding disputes and approve longer-term legislation to fund the government next year. The House vote came just hours after leaders announced a bicameral agreement.

“While I wish the Feb. 18 end date were earlier, and I pursued earlier dates, I believe this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement that addresses the needs of the American people,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

While lawmakers have long conceded that they need more time to negotiate the dozen bills that would fund the government for the entire fiscal year, the stopgap plan had become snarled in partisan disagreements over how long it should last and what additional funding proposals could be attached to it.

Because the short-term legislation maintains existing funding levels, it will effectively codify through mid-February spending levels that were negotiated with the Trump administration. Democrats had pushed to do so only through late January, as they are eager to enact their own funding levels and priorities while in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Facing objections from Republicans, Democrats also dropped a push to avert billions of dollars in looming cuts to Medicare, farm subsidies and other programs.

Both parties agreed to provide $7 billion for Afghan evacuees who fled the country after the Taliban regained control and American troops withdrew. The additional funding includes about $4.3 billion for the Defense Department to care for evacuees on military bases, $1.3 billion for the State Department and $1.3 billion for a division of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide resettlement and other services, including emergency housing and English language classes.

House Republicans, however, opposed the spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, almost unanimously.

“While I’m sure President Trump will be only too delighted to have his last budget continue for almost a year after he left office, there is real work left to be done,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Perhaps what is most frustrating has been the way in which the majority has bungled reaching a relatively simple deal on this particular continuing resolution.”

Across the Capitol, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that he was “pleased that we have finally reached an agreement.”

But he offered a warning about the negotiations over the long-term spending bills. He said that if Democrats continued to push for policies that Republicans oppose, such as lower levels of defense funding and the elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortions, “we’ll be having the same conversation in February.”

The more immediate dilemma…



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