Manchin: I'm not entirely opposed to blocking funds for vaccine mandates in CR

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Get ready for another round of Brinksmanship, American Style. Negotiators reached a top-line agreement on a continuing resolution this morning that would punt budgetary matters into February. However, some Senate Republicans have declared that they want an amendment that will block funds on Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates:

House and Senate negotiators agreed on a temporary spending bill Thursday that would keep the lights on at federal agencies through Feb. 18, buying 11 more weeks to try to resolve partisan disputes over funding levels and policy riders that have stalled progress on fiscal 2022 appropriations.

The measure is set for a House vote later on Thursday, though the Senate’s timing isn’t yet clear ahead of a midnight deadline Friday. Several GOP senators on Wednesday said they’d potentially object to quick passage if they didn’t secure a vote on their proposal to block President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private employers.

This doesn’t even punt all of the budgetary issues. A pay-go restriction will remain in place that could force the Biden administration to cut spending in January on “dozens” of programs, including Medicaid reimbursements and farm subsidies. Democrats may have to add those into their reconciliation bill or the NDAA, Roll Call reports, but at least for now the CR would allow for more negotiations and avoid a government shutdown.

That’s if it could pass the Senate. And right now that’s a big if:

Several GOP senators have said they want a vote on their amendment to bar funding for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring businesses with at least 100 workers to ensure they are fully vaccinated or tested regularly. The rule is currently on hold pending litigation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

They want the threshold for adoption to be a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold applied during the last stopgap bill debate. The vote was 50-50 in late September, meaning if the bar was lowered to a simple majority, a tiebreaker vote from Vice President Kamala Harris could be needed.

Schumer has indicated that he now wants a 60-vote threshold on amendment votes rather than the previous 51-vote threshold. And that’s because Schumer may have already lost his 50th vote that would enable Harris to break a tie:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) did not rule out supporting a Republican-pushed amendment to the short-term government funding bill that would defund vaccine mandates for private companies. GOP lawmakers have been pushing for this vote to be set at a 51-vote threshold in hopes of gaining Manchin’s support.

Here’s what he told reporters Thursday about mandates:

“I’ve been very supportive of a mandate for federal government, for military, for all the people who work on government payroll. I’ve been less enthused about it in the private sector. So we’re working through all of that.”

Notably, Manchin voted against blocking funds for vaccine mandates back in September when it first came up. Now he seems more amenable to it, perhaps in part because federal courts keep blocking enforcement of Joe Biden’s ill-conceived and unconstitutional mandates. Even those that do survive scrutiny have backfired, especially at the state and local level as thousands of first responders have drained out of the rank and file over the disputes. And now that it’s become clear that vaccinations do not necessarily prevent transmission — and may not be much different than naturally acquired immunity in that sense — the mandates have become much more difficult to defend.

Schumer could avoid that by sticking with a 60-vote threshold on amendments, but then Senate Republicans could force at least a brief shutdown with delaying tactics on the overall bill. And that’s precisely what a few Senate Republicans plan to do if they don’t get their simple-majority amendment on this issue:

Does Schumer want to risk a shutdown to protect mandates that are not just unpopular but almost certainly unenforceable? Maybe not, but one has to wonder whether Mitch McConnell wants to have a shutdown over what looks very much to be a mooted issue at this point, too. The simplest solution would be to allow for the 51-vote threshold and see whether Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski might let Schumer off the hook for it, or for Schumer to recognize that this is a fight that’s not worth having in the first place.

Whatever they decide, they’d better get the solution in place. Funding for the government runs out tomorrow night at midnight. A shutdown over the weekend would barely get noticed, but starting Monday it will make news — and if history is any guide, it won’t benefit either party, even if it might damage one more than the other. Maybe.