Washington: US lawmakers scrambled on Thursday to avert a weekend government shutdown as Republicans stalled a bill to fund federal agencies in a bid to derail President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
With the clock ticking down to the Friday-Saturday midnight deadline, the House was expected to send a stopgap measure to the Senate that would keep the government open until February 18, with cross-party backing.
But hardline Senate Republicans have threatened to hold up the legislation over their opposition to Biden’s unrelated order that large companies mandate Covid-19 vaccinations or frequent testing for workers.
"This morning, the House will start the process to take up this government funding measure, and we hope they can have it passed through their chamber by the end of today," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
"Unfortunately, it seems Republican dysfunction could be a roadblock to averting an unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown." The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States, and the troubling new Omicron variant of the virus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.
But legal challenges have mounted against Biden’s edict requiring vaccination or regular testing for some sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees, military personnel and health care workers. Republican Senator Mike Lee wants to remove federal funding to implement the corporate mandate and is backed by several right wingers in both chambers.
The majority of Republicans -- including the party’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell -- are against the move, fearing they will be blamed for a shutdown, but in the evenly-divided upper chamber any single senator can stall any vote.
Schumer told colleagues on the Senate floor the cross-party stopgap deal was a "good compromise that allows an appropriate amount of time for both parties in both chambers to finish negotiations."