Senators scramble to avert government shutdown before Friday deadline

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers weren’t panicking yet, but Congress was scrambling Thursday to strike a bipartisan deal to avert a government shutdown before funding runs out Friday night.

Senate leaders said they expected to hold a vote later Thursday on the stopgap funding measure — called a continuing resolution, or CR— which would allow lawmakers to leave Washington for the weeklong Presidents Day recess. 

A dozen of these senators were eagerly preparing to leave for the Munich security conference. It will begin Friday amid increasing Russian aggression towards Ukraine. Senators made it clear that a disruptive shutdown at home would not look well ahead of what U.S. officials call an “imminent”Russian invasion

“It’s a typical CR exercise. We’ll have some amendments, and then we’ll pass the CR and the government won’t be shut down,”Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to reporters at the Capitol.

Last week, the House passed the funding bill that keeps the government’s lights on through March 11. However, senators will need the support of all members to pass the funding bill by Thursday. As of Thursday afternoon, there were still a few unresolved issues.

At least four Republicans want votes on specific issues. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for example, wants a separate voice vote on a bill — also backed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — to bar the Department of Health and Human Services from funding the distribution of crack pipes. Biden administration officials say a $30 million HHS program aimed at fighting the substance use and overdose epidemic doesn’t pay for crack pipes.    

Sen. Mike Braun, R.I., is expected get a vote on his amended to require that the government balance its budget each year. There are two other issues that are more complicated: Sen. Mike Lee, R. Utah, is asking for a vote to eliminate funding for the enforcement all remaining federal vaccine requirements, while Senator Ted Cruz, R. Texas, wants to stop funding for schools and child-care centers that require Covid-19 vaccinations.

Cruz led the government shutdown of 2013 in an unsuccessful bid defund Obamacare.

Then there’s the issue of Senate absences. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) is currently recovering from a stroke. He tweetedHe is now back in Washington, as he was on Thursday. Senator Mark Kelly, D. Arizona, had to fly back to Arizona to visit his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords. She is currently in the hospital with appendicitis. Dianne Feinstein, D.Calif. was also attending a family issue.

Democrats were concerned about missing legislators and feared that some GOP amendments could pass in the 50-50 Senate where there is no wiggle room for the party.

“There are attendance issues that are affecting that. Otherwise, everything is ready to go,”John Thune, R.S.D., Senate Minority Whip “The amendments, I think, are ready to be voted on. And the Rubio [crack pipe] issue can get worked out fairly quickly.”

Frank Thorp V. Julie Tsirkin contributed.


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