Fedweek

Updated: Congress has acted to temporarily fund federal agencies through February 18, with the Senate in the process defeating a bid to end the Biden administration’s Coronavirus vaccine mandates, including the one affecting federal employees.

The measure headed off the threat of a partial government shutdown that otherwise would have occurred at midnight Friday (December 3) with the expiration of a temporary funding measure in place since the current fiscal year started October 1.

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Like its predecessor, the new stopgap generally continues agency funding at fiscal 2021 levels, while adding funds for resettling Afghan refugees. The measure effectively buys more time for Congress to work on regular funding bills for the current fiscal year that would be nearly half over by that point, taking the process up to the start of the next annual budget cycle.

Opposition by Senate Republicans to the vaccine mandates had threatened the measure’s passage but rather than place a hold on the bill the agreed to a vote on an amendment. That was defeated along party lines, 50-48, with two Republicans not voting; had there been a tie, Vice President Harris would have broken it by voting against it.

Most of the focus was on the mandate that private sector companies with 100 or more employees require that their workers either be vaccinated or be subject to frequent testing. That policy, which was to take effect at the start of the new year, has been suspended in light of a court ruling against it, a ruling that is pending on appeal.

Federal courts also have blocked, although only in some states, separate mandates for government contractors and for health care personnel and suppliers in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Several court challenges to the federal employee mandate also are under way. In two of them, federal judges in the District of Columbia have denied requests to temporarily block that mandate while the underlying legal issues were considered, saying that the complaining employees have not yet faced negative consequences for not being vaccinated. Those rulings did not decide on the underlying issues but both cited the public interest in combatting spread of the virus.

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