A group of congressional Republicans is threatening to shut down the government this week in a last-ditch attempt to block all funding for the enforcement of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for large employers — a policy that right-wing judges have temporarily put on hold.
Politico reported Wednesday that Senate Republicans led by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah are “planning to object to quick consideration of a stopgap measure to extend funding into early 2022 unless Democratic leaders agree to deny money to enforce the mandate.”
“Because of the tight schedule — and Senate rules that require unanimous consent to move quickly — the senators believe they’ll be able to drag out the process well past midnight Friday, when funding officially expires,” the outlet explained. “The [Senate] group has backup from the House: In a meeting Tuesday night, the House Freedom Caucus voted to pressure Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to take a harder line on the so-called continuing resolution unless Democrats strip out funding to enforce the mandate.”
The federal government will shut down at the end of the day on December 3 — in the middle of a deadly pandemic — if Congress fails to approve a short-term funding bill before then. Though Democrats narrowly control both the House and the Senate, they will need Republican votes in the upper chamber due to the archaic 60-vote filibuster rule, which the majority party has left intact despite mounting progressive pressure to abolish it.
“The stakes are high,” the Washington Post’s Rachel Roubein noted Tuesday. “Averting a government shutdown is critical for helping fund the U.S. territories’ Medicaid programs. The current stopgap spending measure sustains federal dollars for their safety net programs. It’s also crucial to keeping government agencies running and providing paychecks to overworked staff in the federal health department.”
While it’s not clear how many GOP lawmakers intend to go along with Lee’s shutdown plan, 15 Senate Republicans signed on to a letter last month vowing to “use all means at [their] disposal to oppose… legislation that funds or in any way enables the enforcement of President Biden’s employer vaccine mandate.”
In a tweet Wednesday, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) lambasted the GOP’s shutdown threat as “another hissy fit in the making.”
“Republicans plan again to take their ball and go home after not getting their way,” Connolly wrote. “Like every other GOP shutdown, this would greatly harm federal employees, contractors, and the American people who need and deserve a functioning government.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Republicans’ ploy to shut down the federal government over Biden’s vaccination requirements amounts to an effort to “prevent essential services from going out to people across the country because they’re upset about our efforts to save peoples lives.”
WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki hits at “absurdity” of Republicans threatening to allow government shutdown over vaccine mandates:
“They’re upset about our efforts to save peoples lives. I’ll just leave that there.” pic.twitter.com/rj1bLAe9SM
— The Recount (@therecount) November 30, 2021
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with enforcing Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, which compels businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing.
OSHA, which is chronically underfunded and understaffed, suspended enforcement of the requirement last month to comply with a temporary injunction handed down in early November by the conservative-dominated U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Biden administration is attempting to revive the mandate, which was challenged by large employers and Republican-controlled state governments.
On Tuesday, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana — a Trump appointee — blocked the start of a separate vaccine mandate that would have applied to healthcare workers at facilities that rely on Medicare and Medicaid funding.
“Thank you, Judge Terry Doughty, for making the world less safe today with your ruling on vaccine mandates,” responded Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves. “You know-nothing ideologue, you simpering puppet following a GOP vogue for cruelty, selfishness wrapped up in the defense of liberty.”
The House is expected to vote on a stopgap government funding measure as soon as Wednesday in the hopes of keeping the resolution on track to pass before the Friday deadline.
In a floor speech on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “Senate Democrats are ready to pass this legislation and to get it done as quickly as possible.”
“To avoid a needless shutdown, Republicans will have to cooperate and approve the government funding legislation without delay. If Republicans choose obstruction, there will be a shutdown entirely because of their own dysfunction,” Schumer warned. “We cannot afford to go down that road.”
“As winter begins,” he added, “the last thing that Americans need right now is an avoidable, Republican-manufactured shutdown that will potentially harm millions of federal workers, harm their families, and harm local communities that rely on an open and functioning federal government.”