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Senate stall on budget talks greases path to government shutdown

Government funds are set to run out Friday, and Senate lawmakers still haven't reached a deal to skirt a shutdown

Lawmakers are racing to pass short-term government spending legislation Thursday as they stare down a fast-approaching shutdown deadline, but Democratic absences and Republican demands for several votes on unrelated policies stand in the way of swift passage before the clock runs out.

The federal government is set to run out of funds Friday at midnight if the Senate doesn't pass a continuing resolution, a short-term spending measure that would keep the lights on through March 11.

About 48 hours out from that deadline, however, Republicans are demanding votes on one amendment spearheaded by Texas Senator Ted Cruz that would ban federal funds from going to schools that mandate COVID-19 vaccinations and on another amendment led by Utah Senator Mike Lee to temporarily defund vaccine mandates for federal employees and medical workers.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio also has a bill blocking the spending bill's passage that would ban federal funds from going to crack pipes and drug paraphernalia.

The issue took center stage last week after conservative pundits began accusing Health and Human Services of sending out crack pipes as part of a program aimed at preventing overdoses and health hazards related to drug use. The Biden administration has said no federal funds are being used to fund such paraphernalia.

Passing Rubio's bill would expedite the passage of the spending legislation, but it's unclear whether Democrats are on board with the deal.

As Republicans make demands for votes on these policies, Democrats in the chamber are facing a numbers game. With several Democratic absences, including that of Senator Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico who is recovering from a stroke, and many senators already out of office, Republicans would likely have the votes to defund President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates.

If passed, these additions to the short-term spending bill would become a major obstacle to skirting a shutdown. The amendments would send the legislation back for a vote in the House, though that body is already in recess after passing its version of the stopgap bill earlier this month.

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The continuing resolution would give Congress three more weeks to agree to funding levels for the military and executive agencies through the end of the fiscal year.

Lawmakers have continuously struggled to agree to a long-term spending plan, known as an omnibus, relying solely on short-term budget bills since the fiscal year began back in October.

An omnibus package would consist of 12 bills and spend an estimated $1.5 trillion on agency and military funding, but the two parties have been at odds for months as Democrats have pushed for increased domestic spending and Republicans have championed expanding the budget for defense programs.

Last week, congressional leaders announced they had agreed to a framework for long-term spending, but so far lawmakers have not provided details on the deal or its price tag.

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Architect of the Capitol

The Senate Wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.