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Lawmakers Strike Spending Deal but Government Shutdown Still Looms

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WASHINGTON — Top lawmakers announced a deal on Thursday to keep the government funded through mid-February, but a group of Senate Republicans was still threatening to force a shutdown over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers.

With less than 48 hours before funding is set to lapse, the House was expected to vote later Thursday to keep the government open through Feb. 18 and provide $7 billion for the care and resettlement of Afghan refugees. But the fate of the measure was uncertain in the Senate, where unanimity would be needed to expedite its passage before a midnight deadline on Friday, and a few Republicans signaled they would object.

Leaders in both parties have warned against a government shutdown, and some Republicans said they were optimistic that they could unite their ranks behind the legislation in time to avert a lapse in funding.

“Let’s be clear, if there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican, anti-vaccine shutdown,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. He added, “I hope cooler heads will prevail on the other side, so we can keep the government funded before tomorrow’s deadline.”

Senior Democrats and Republicans hailed the spending agreement, saying it would afford them more time to resolve outstanding disputes and approve longer-term legislation to fund the government next year.

“It continues current funding and policy with only minimal changes, creating incentives for both sides to negotiate,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “While I wish the Feb. 18 end date were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people.”

While lawmakers have long conceded that they needed more time to negotiate the dozen bills needed to keep the government funded for the entire fiscal year, the stopgap plan has become snarled in partisan disagreements over how long it should last and what additional funding proposals could be attached.

Because the short-term legislation maintains existing funding levels, it will effectively codify spending levels negotiated with the Trump administration through mid-February. Democrats had pushed to do so only through late January, eager to enact their own funding levels and priorities while in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Democrats also dropped a push to avert billions of dollars in looming cuts to Medicare, subsidies and other programs, over objections from Republicans.

But both parties agreed to provide $7 billion for Afghan evacuees, who fled the country after American troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban regained control. The additional funding includes about $4.3 billion for the Defense Department to care for evacuees on military bases, $1.3 billion for the State Department and $1.3 billion for the Administration for Children and Families to provide resettlement and other services, including emergency housing and English language classes.

Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that he was “pleased that we have finally reached an agreement.” But he warned that if Democrats continued to push for policies Republicans oppose — including elimination of the Hyde amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortions — and lower levels of defense funding, “we’ll be having the same conversation in February.”

It remained unclear, however, whether other members of Mr. Shelby’s party would allow the bill to advance in time to avoid a shutdown. A few Republicans, led by Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas, have said they will oppose moving forward with it unless a measure is added barring funding to put in place the administration’s mandate for large businesses to require vaccinations or regular testing to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Scrambling to pacify the holdouts, party leaders were discussing allowing a vote on an amendment that would cut off funding for the vaccine mandate. But Mr. Marshall told reporters on Capitol Hill that he would accept the proposal only if it could be subject to a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 needed to advance most major legislation in the Senate.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know

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The Omicron variant. The latest Covid-19 variant was identified on Nov. 25 by scientists in South Africa and has since been detected in more than 20 countries, including the U.S., which reported its first case on Dec. 1. Should you be concerned? Here are answers to common questions about this variant.

Biden’s winter Covid plan. As Omicron reaches the U.S., President Biden is set to announce a strategy that includes insurance reimbursement for at-home tests. His plan will also require international travelers to show proof of a negative test taken 24 hours before departing for the U.S.

New travel restrictions and lockdowns. Germany has announced tough restrictions on unvaccinated people, barring them from many aspects of public life. Japan, Israel and Morocco have stopped all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders. Here’s where U.S. citizens can travel right now and what to know about travel restrictions.

Shifting views on boosters among experts. For months, many public health experts have opposed plans to roll out Covid booster shots to all adults. But as Omicron gains ground, researchers are changing their minds, and now believe that the shots may offer the best defense against the new variant.

Given the 50-50 partisan split, that would mean it would take only one Democrat joining Republicans in support of the proposal to pass it, and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, suggested he had not ruled out doing so.

“I’ve been very supportive of a mandate for federal government, for military, for all the people that work on government payroll — I’ve been less enthused about it in the private sector,” Mr. Manchin told reporters Thursday morning. “We’re working through all that.”

Mr. Manchin voted against a similar amendment in September.

Several senior Republicans who have objected to the mandates have warned that the dispute is not worth a government shutdown, particularly as the nation confronts a new coronavirus variant.

“I don’t think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, speaking on Fox News. “It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best vehicle to get this job done.”

But it would take only one senator lodging an objection to slow the bill’s passage and force a lapse in government funding.

“This is so silly, that we have people who are anti-science, anti-vaccination, saying they’re going to shut down government over that,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said, visibly exasperated at her weekly news conference. “We’re not going to go for their anti-vaxxing, OK?”

“So if you think that’s how we’re going to keep government open,” she added, “forget that.”

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