WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Republicans is plotting to hold up a government funding bill this week to dramatize their dislike of President Joe Biden’s efforts to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.
Federal operations are only funded through Friday, so any objection to a quick vote on a funding bill would likely result in a partial government shutdown this weekend.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told HuffPost on Wednesday that there wouldn’t be a shutdown as long as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave in to his demands to defund Biden’s vaccine rule.
“It’s up to Senator Schumer. We’re hoping he’s not going to shut down the economy,” Marshall said. “When a third of people are refusing to get the vaccines, this federal vaccination mandate would cause the economy to be shut down.”
The so-called “vaccine mandate” — an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring employees of large firms to get vaccinated against or be tested weekly for COVID-19 — was supposed to take effect in January, but has been challenged in court by Republican officials.
Because people can opt for testing instead of getting a shot, the rule is not really much of a mandate.
Still, Marshall and more than a dozen of his colleagues threatened the shutdown strategy in a letter to Schumer last month, writing “we will oppose all efforts to implement and enforce [the vaccine rule] with every tool at our disposal, including our votes on spending measures considered by the Senate.” The letter specifically threatened that the signatories would object to the kind of stopgap funding bill known as a “continuing resolution” that Democrats had planned to pass this week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that “nobody should be concerned about a government shutdown.”
And if a shutdown does occur, it would likely be brief, since most Republicans did not join Marshall in his pledge to oppose a government funding bill over the vaccine rule. It would probably take the Senate a few days to overcome the filibuster with a cloture motion.
One problem is that the House still has to pass a bill funding the government, which hasn’t happened yet because House leaders are still haggling with McConnell over the duration of funding. The Senate can’t act until the House does, creating another potential delay.
Shutting down the government — at a moment when Republicans have lots of political momentum and are poised to retake at least one chamber of Congress — is a highly questionable strategy, especially considering voters generally know which party has refused to cooperate with basic governance in past shutdowns. It could also hamper the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus following news of a new variant spreading around the world.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told HuffPost he didn’t love the shutdown strategy.
“I object to the mandate,” he said. “But I also think that in the times that we’re in right now, funding the government, making sure we pay our bills, are pretty important.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested an alternate way for Republicans to sound off against the Biden administration’s coronavirus policies without holding up government funding: a vote on a Congressional Review Act resolution seeking to disapprove of the rule, which all 50 Republicans already signed onto last month. In order to succeed, the resolution must be passed by the Senate and the House, both of which Democrats control, and be signed into law by the president.
“There’s a number of options that can be negotiated that would allow the point to be made but not in a way that would stop the [continuing resolution],” Cornyn told HuffPost.
House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), meanwhile, called the threat nonsensical.
“We just listened to a report this morning from a well-noted virologist who’s pointing out the seriousness of the matter, talking about the unknowns that are involved,” Neal said. “And I can’t imagine that we would walk back to safety precautions that had been universally well-accepted.”