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In Rare Cross-Party Unity, US Congress Avoids Government Shutdown



The new Omicron version of the coronavirus has raised fears of a cold increase in cases.

The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill on Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running in 2022 and a government shutdown of an expensive holiday season.

With Friday’s deadline ticking up at 11:59 p.m., the Senate voted 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18, with a motion that had already gone ahead with the House.

“Continuing resolution” saves millions of public employees from sending home unpaid for Christmas, as parks, museums and other federal properties and services are closed.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “I’m glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed – the government will remain open.”

“And I thank the members of this chamber for walking back from the brink of an avoidable, unnecessary and costly shutdown.”

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution a rough ride in the Senate, where a small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure in protest of the White House’s pandemic response.

But Democrats agreed to allow large companies to vote directly by a majority vote on the defense of President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate, which, as expected, immediately failed.

Right-wing Republican groups led by senior Utah Senator Mike Lee argue that the mandate is an attack on individual liberties.

780,000 dead

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and the troubled new Omicron version of the coronavirus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.

But legal challenges have mounted against Biden’s order requiring vaccinations or weekly tests for certain sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees.

Lee campaigned for the removal of federal funding to implement the mandate and was supported by the right wing in both chambers.

“If the choice is between temporarily suspending non-essential work, and on the other hand, standing idle as 45 million Americans lose their jobs, their livelihoods and their ability to work, then I stand with American workers. Every time,” he said.

According to the Pew Research Center, the figure cited by Lee would represent more than a quarter of the 157 million people who make up the American workforce.

According to an October survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only five percent of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job because of a vaccine mandate.

In an equally divided upper house, any senator can torpedo any vote.

But a majority of Senate Republicans – including their leader Mitch McConnell – were against the move, fearing he would be blamed for the shutdown.

Ahead of the House vote, McConnell had indicated that Republicans would support the continued motion, although he gave no indication that he brings Lee and other hold-outs to heel.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, previously hit out at Lee and his supporters, accusing them of “disregarding science and public health.”

Had the Congress failed to keep the government open, the bandh would have started just after midnight on Saturday and would have probably ended in the next week.

The shutdown never happened during a national emergency like the pandemic, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates the 2018-19 pause wiped $11 billion from the economy.

The stopgap measure gives legislators time to negotiate full-year spending bills for the rest of FY 2022.

And with the threat off the table, Democratic leadership is now free to focus on passing Biden’s domestic agenda — a $1.8 trillion social welfare and climate spending plan.

The bill is central to Biden’s legacy but risks failing because of feuds between progressive and centrist factions of Democrats.

Lawmakers are also deadlocked over the prospect of a first-time US loan default that would wipe out an estimated six million jobs and wipe out $15 trillion of household assets while keeping the economy in tank.

The government is likely to run out of cash on or soon after December 15, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap.

But Republicans say they won’t help, despite pressing for hikes under former President Donald Trump, because they want no part in the Democrats’ historically massive package of social reforms.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)