Government shutdown postponed for eleven weeks

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

It was looking dubious for a while, but Congress managed to pass a short-term measure to keep the lights on until February 18th. There was certainly plenty of drama up until the final hour, but the measure eventually passed by comfortable margins. That’s actually not a bad thing, despite all of the usual jokes about Congress being at its best when it’s not in session. They still have important work to finish, particularly the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. Allowing our military and intelligence agencies to go unfunded at a time when we’re dealing with far too much baggage with China and Russia would be an unconscionable dereliction of duty. (We can argue another day about how Joe Biden’s foreign policy failures have left us in that position.) Democrats in the House passed the bill with no help from Republicans except for Adam Kinzinger, who is retiring anyway and no longer has to care what the rest of the party thinks. In the Senate, there was plenty of GOP support and the measure passed 69-28. (Associated Press)

The Senate has passed a stopgap spending bill that avoids a short-term shutdown and funds the federal government through Feb. 18 after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal vaccine mandates. The measure now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Earlier Thursday, congressional leaders announced they had finally reached an agreement to keep the government running for 11 more weeks, generally at current spending levels, while adding $7 billion to aid Afghanistan evacuees.

Once the House voted to approve the measure, senators soon announced an agreement that would allow them to vote on it quickly.

While some may see this as a case of Senate Republicans “capitulating” to the Democrats, this was actually a smart move. They raised a few important issues, kept the vaccine mandates in the public eye, and still managed to avoid taking the blame for shutting the government down. And make no mistake about that. The minority always gets blamed for a shutdown and is perpetually labeled as the Party of No.

This would be a particularly unfortunate time for the GOP to allow the usual fights on the floor to devolve into a shutdown. The Democrats are currently on the ropes, with their major priorities stagnating and the Democratic president’s approval ratings hovering somewhere between the popularity of the IRS and a sexually transmitted disease. Everyone is gearing up for the midterms and GOP challengers around the country can smell blood in the water. A shutdown at a time like this would be just about the biggest gift that McCarthy and McConnel could hand Joe Biden and the Democrats at this point.

The Senate Republicans managed to keep all of their members on board to support an amendment that would have blocked any funding of Biden’s employer vaccine mandate. The measure still failed because the Democrats were similarly unified in opposition to it, but the GOP managed to keep the issue in the headlines, which was the primary goal from the beginning. The Democrats have seriously misjudged the public’s views on these mandates and the courts have been shutting them down time after time. There may not be any need for the Republicans to defeat the mandates legislatively if enough judges are willing to do the work for them. Then the public can weigh in next November.

Now we just have to figure out what’s going to happen in the first part of February. There’s another spending bill in the works that would keep things chugging along until September. I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see a brief shutdown at that point, particularly so close to the election. The GOP will be looking to pin down Democrats and force them to take some hard votes only six or seven weeks out from the midterms, but the Democrats will be similarly eager to blame a shutdown on the GOP. The political forecast calls for drama and you can rest assured that we’ll be seeing plenty of it in 2022.