Government will stay open – for now
The government, headquartered in this building, will remain open, for now. | Mark Tenally/AP

WASHINGTON—As the coronavirus pandemic’s Omicron variant landed in the U.S., right-wing Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, wanted to make sure more people are exposed to the modern-day plague. They failed, as lawmakers—with union backing—also voted to keep the federal government going.

The three just didn’t say so, but exposure of more people to COVID and more death would have resulted from their scheme.  Making matters worse, the right wingers tried to shut the government down yesterday if Congress did not go along with their deadly scheme.

Here’s the deal, as Democratic President Joe Biden would say:

Funding for government agencies ran out at midnight Dec 3. That meant unless lawmakers passed a new temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution, by then, everything came to a halt. Including anti-coronavirus measures.

The House passed the CR, extending spending at current levels through Feb. 18. That’s less than Biden and the Dems want for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The 221-213 vote just before 6 p..m on Dec. 2 was on strict party lines. All day, the House GOP delayed the outcome with multitudes of roll calls, losing every one.

“Continuing resolutions are not the way to govern. They are a short-term patch that leaves the American people behind,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. Her panel shepherds money bills, including CRs, through the House.

“But we are here because my colleagues across the aisle refused time and time again to begin negotiations or even offer a proposal of their own for government funding that delivers for the people. There is not one piece of paper describing what Republicans want.”

Her counterpart, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, countered Democratic money bills are extremist and complained about a faster rise in spending for domestic programs than for the military, ignoring that the Pentagon still would get more than half of all the dollars involved.

Federal worker unions cheered the House majority on, but the GOP tactics also irked Everett Kelley, president of the largest federal worker union, the Government Employees.

A shutdown would be “a Christmas gift to America’s global adversaries, who are anxious to exploit every failure of our democratic system of government,” said Kelley, a veteran.

And since it would occur just before Dec. 25, a shutdown “also would be a lump of coal in the stocking of every hardworking American honorably serving their country and every citizen who counts on critical government services, including our most vulnerable citizens.

“Our members have a simple message for Congress: Stop playing chicken with people’s lives and do your jobs,” the AFGE leader declared. Kelley didn’t foresee how prescient he was. As it turned out, the lawmakers eventually stopped playing, just in time.

The other big federal workers union, the Treasury Employees, said it worked the phones to get lawmakers to act.

“The CR would give Congress more time to reach a longer-term spending agreement that will fund federal agencies for the remainder of the 2022 fiscal year,” which began Oct. 1, NTEU added. Lawmakers had already had 62 days to try to reach a deal, DeLauro noted.

But the straightforward, if ideological, vote in the House paled in comparison to the antics of Cruz, Lee and Marshall in the Senate. They lost in the end, and the bill carried the Senate, 69-28.

Under the Constitution, the Senate must wait for House action first on all money bills. And in the 50-50 chamber, Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to push the temporary money bill through.

Sen. Cruz led a failed effort in the Senate to tie keeping the government open to a scheme that would expose millions more to the coronavirus. | Alex Brandon/AP

The continuing resolution is “a good compromise that allows an appropriate amount of time for both parties in both chambers to finish negotiations on appropriations,” Schumer told reporters. “We need to pass it and that’s what we’ll be working toward doing,” McConnell said.

Then the shenanigans started.

To approve the measure without a GOP filibuster, the two leaders had to round up 10 Republicans to join all 48 Democrats and both independents to trigger a debate and final vote. McConnell knew he couldn’t get 10 Republicans, so the two leaders tried another tactic.

They asked for unanimous agreement to consider the money bill, and to have only 51 votes, not 60, to pass it. The tie-breaker would be Vice President Kamala Harris.

Cruz, Lee and Marshall all objected. No unanimity.

Why? They demanded a rollcall vote on their pet cause: An amendment barring Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration from going ahead with its Emergency Temporary Standard—which unions support—to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

OSHA’s rule, which Biden ordered and unions cheered, would require any firm with at least 100 workers to draft and implement battle plans against spreading the virus: Mandatory masks and physical distancing, vaccinations for all who want them (with a lot of pressure to roll up your sleeves for the jab) and weekly testing for people who don’t.

Cruz, Lee and Marshall, in short, wanted to ban the anti-virus measures. Such a ban would only expose more people to the virus and its variants.

Never mind that three federal appeals court judges in New Orleans, in an opinion authored by a Donald Trump-named jurist, halted OSHA’s rule on Nov. 12. The three senators wanted the halt to continue. They still do. They plan to try again the week of Dec. 6.

And they were willing to shut down the entire government, including anti-virus measures, to get their way. Late on Dec. 2, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said they’d get their vote, and lose, because two Senate Republicans were absent.

They did. They lost, 48-50. Then, after 9:30 p.m., the bill passed, 69-28. No shutdown. “And that’s the way it is,” as Walter Cronkite used to say, on Thursday evening, Dec. 2.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.