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House passes funding plan as threat of a government shutdown looms

In a last-minute attempt to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, the House passed a short-term measure to fund the government, giving the Senate one day to vote to keep things running.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Just over 24 hours away from the deadline to avoid triggering a government shutdown, House lawmakers approved a short-term government funding plan that would keep the lights on through mid-February, but whether it succeeds is up to the Senate where a vote is expected Thursday night.

The spending plan, which passed the House by a near party-line vote of  221-212,  provides a last-minute and temporary way for the federal government to avoid a shutdown, which would be triggered at midnight on Friday. 

Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger was the only Republican who voted to keep the government open.

Both chambers have to agree to the same plan before that time, the likelihood of which remains uncertain as some Senate Republicans threaten to force a shutdown in protest of federal Covid-19 vaccine and testing mandates and have lobbied for an amendment to the spending plan which would defund federal vaccine mandates on businesses.

“The only thing I want to shut down is enforcement of an immoral, unconstitutional vaccine mandate,” Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, said on the Senate floor Thursday.

To avoid a dragged out debate process that could run out the clock on Friday, Senate Republican support of the plan is needed and all 100 members of the Senate have to agree to hold a vote in the first place with the filibuster and ideological divides providing added obstacles to the plan’s passage.

“It is yet again a double sense of irresponsibility. First of all, they shut down government and then they shut down science," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said of the threats by Republicans.

The proposed bill funds the federal government through Feb. 18, potentially staving off a federal shutdown but adding yet another agenda item to an already heavy plate for lawmakers in the new year.

If the new plan does pass the fiercely divided Senate, Congress will have to either pass another short-term spending plan or resolve the political arguments that have prevented lawmakers from passing a long-term appropriations plan, known as an omnibus, for the rest of the fiscal year in February.

The plan approved by the House continues previously agreed upon levels of funding, but adds $7 billion of support to Afghan refugees.

Regardless of whether the short-term measure is approved or the country enters a government shutdown, which could jeopardize federal efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic as a new variant of the virus spreads, lawmakers will have to agree to a long-term spending measure  in order to avoid repeated risks of shutdowns.

Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said she is eager to pass a larger and more long-term spending package.

"While I wish the Feb. 18 end date were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,”DeLauro said in a statement.

But Republicans take issue with many of the proposals Democrats have for a long-term spending package. 

While Democrats are eager to increase spending on education, Republicans have said a new plan needs to include lower domestic spending, more money allocated to defense initiatives and, a major point of contention this year, the Hyde Amendment, a provision that is historically included to prevent federal funds from going to abortions and one that Democrats have talked about cutting.

These sharp political divides have kept lawmakers from compromising on a long-term spending bill, relying instead on short-term resolutions. Congress passed a stop-gap resolution back in September to give more time for lawmakers to come together on a funding bill that would last through the end of the fiscal year, but each party continues to blame the other for failures to meet at the negotiating table.

“Today’s resolution is the second continuing resolution we’ve had to pass to cover fiscal year 2022, sadly, I expect it will not be the last,” said Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, warning lawmakers will continue to fail at reaching a consensus.

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.”

The Senate now has until midnight Friday to pass the short-term plan or bring on a shutdown, something President Joe Biden said he does not believe will happen. A vote is expected to occur Thursday evening.

“There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic,” Biden said ahead of the House vote Thursday.

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