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Congress avoids government shutdown with passage of short-term funding plan

By a vote of 69-28, the chamber agreed to a measure that will fund the government through mid-February and provide $7 billion in support for Afghan refugees.

WASHINGTON (CN) — After hours of uncertainty and an unsuccessful bid by some Republicans to defund federal vaccine mandates, the Senate passed a short-term funding plan that staved off a government shutdown and gives lawmakers two more months to pass a long-term plan.

By a vote of 69-28, the chamber agreed to a measure that will fund the government through mid-February and provide $7 billion in support for Afghan refugees.

House lawmakers first introduced the plan Thursday morning, one day before existing spending measures were set to expire and trigger a shutdown of the federal government.

While some Senate Republicans threatened to reject the measure in protest of federal vaccine mandates after it passed the lower chamber, a group of lawmakers led by Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, instead voted on a failed amendment that would have blocked funding for federal vaccine and testing mandates.

"I've always supported the vaccine and I encourage Americans to talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated and about the booster but whether to receive the vaccine or not is a personal choice it should not be mandated via unconstitutional executive actions," Marshall said.

"They’re being forced to choose between an unwanted medical procedure and losing their job," Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, said of federal workers and employees at large businesses who are mandated to be vaccinated.

Despite requiring only a simple majority in the Senate, not the usual 60-vote threshold to move along legislation in the chamber, the amendment failed to pass by a vote of 48-50 while the short-term spending bill succeeded.

The "stop-gap" plan serves as a temporary way to keep the lights on and keep the federal government running, but lawmakers will have to either pass another short-term funding plan or sit down at the negotiating table and compromise on a long-term measure that would fund the government through fiscal year 2022 before the government funding expires on Feb. 18.

Lawmakers have used short-term funding to keep the government running since September after months of lawmakers failing to agree on a dozen year-long spending resolutions and the Senate declining to address a handful of resolutions which had passed the House.

The two parties remain bitterly divided about how to allocate taxpayer dollars in a longer-term government funding package.

Democrats want to prioritize investments in health and education in a larger package, known as an omnibus bill, while Republicans want to reel back domestic spending, amp up funds to the Pentagon and include the Hyde Amendment, a provision historically included in the spending package that stops government funds from going to abortions. Democrats have discussed cutting the Hyde Amendment, a notion that has drawn ire from the GOP.

Early Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, said Congress’ failure to pass a long-term spending plan, one of the only pieces of legislation required to pass each year, is shameful.

“This bill is a demonstration of the failure of 535 adults elected by their fellow citizens to act responsibly. Obviously, of those 535, a number have acted responsibly, have worked to get the job done,” Hoyer said. “We know these bills have to pass, but notwithstanding we come to this place year after year after year.”

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