Congress Passes 10-Week Stopgap Spending Bill, Narrowly Avoiding Shutdown 

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Lawmakers sidestepped last-minute hurdles in effort to buy time for passing full-year funding.  

The House and Senate on Thursday approved a stopgap spending bill, sending to President Biden’s desk a measure to delay a government shutdown until at least mid-February.

The 10-week continuing resolution passed over significant Republican opposition in both chambers and a last-minute push by some conservative senators to block funding for President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The votes came only after lengthy negotiations and a breakthrough agreement Thursday morning. Democrats had pushed to keep agencies funded at fiscal 2021 levels only through January while Republicans had sought a longer bill, but the two sides reached a compromise for a CR through Feb. 18. 

The Senate was able to avoid delays on its vote that would have led to a shutdown after an 11th hour agreement to allow for a vote on an amendment to block funding for implementing the vaccine mandates. That vote, which as part of a compromise only needed a simple majority to pass, failed 48-50. 

Two major hurdles kept the shutdown threat alive this week. First, congressional leaders struggled to reach an agreement on how long the stopgap bill should last. After they agreed to keep agencies afloat through mid-February, lawmakers had little time to act. If even one senator objected to the expedited schedule for consideration of the stopgap, lawmakers would have missed their deadline and agencies would have—at least briefly—been forced to shut down. After agreeing to the vaccine mandate amendment vote, the Republican senators allowed for the hastened timeline to proceed without further interruption.  

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of those seeking to block vaccine mandate enforcement, said on the Senate floor his goal was not to shut down the government. 

"The only thing I want to shut down is enforcement of an immoral, unconstitutional vaccine mandate," Lee said. 

Biden on Thursday correctly predicted a shutdown would not occur. 

“We have everything in place to be able to make sure there is not a shutdown, unless some individual [prompts one],” Biden said. “I spoke with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, [R-Ky.], I spoke with [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, [D-N.Y.]. There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic, and I don't think that will happen. So I don't think there will be a shutdown.”

Earlier in the day, Schumer was less optimistic. 

“This is a good compromise that allows an appropriate amount of time for both parties in both chambers to finish negotiations on appropriations,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, it seems Republican dysfunction could be a roadblock to averting an unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown.” The majority leader added he hoped “cooler heads will prevail.”

Democrats said the stopgap spending bill will keep pressure on Republicans to come to an agreement on full-year fiscal 2022 appropriations because it contains few “anomalies” that lawmakers use in CRs to provide extra funding for pressing issues. The measure does include $7 billion for resettlement of Afghan evacuees. The two parties have yet to agree on the top-line spending totals that would make up the defense and non-defense portions of the fiscal 2022 budget, stymying negotiators from finalizing the 12 individual appropriations bills Congress must pass each year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., implored her colleagues to come together for a full year omnibus funding bill by February and warned anyone who voted against the interim measure. 

"Make no mistake, a vote against this continuing resolution is a vote to shut the government down," DeLauro said.