On the surface, Congress was able to avoid a government shutdown with relatively little drama this week. Facing an inflexible deadline, Democratic and Republican leaders gradually worked toward a solution, confident that an ill-timed crisis would be avoided when all was said and done.
With this in mind, the Democratic-led House voted midday on a stopgap spending bill — called a "continuing resolution," or "CR" — that would fund the government through mid-February. It passed, 221 to 212, with every Republican except Illinois' Adam Kinzinger voting against it. About three hours later, the Senate followed suit, easily passing the same measure, 69 to 28.
The bill then headed to the White House for President Joe Biden's signature, leaving policymakers to turn their attention to the rest of Congress' lengthy to-do list.
So, no muss, no fuss, right? Sort of. GOP lawmakers were willing to allow the process to work, but only if Democrats agreed to meet a single, inconsequential Republican demand. NBC News reported:
... Congress didn't reach the agreement without some obstacles earlier in the day. Republicans in the House and the Senate made an effort to delay passage of the spending bill over objections to the Biden administration's Covid-19 vaccination mandates for workers. A trio of Republican senators, Mike Lee, of Utah, Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Roger Marshall, of Kansas, also made a failed attempt to delay the government spending bill if funding to enforce vaccine mandates is included.
As part of Biden's effort to address the pandemic, the White House created a policy that directs employers to either require their workers to get vaccinated or conduct regular Covid-19 testing. By most measures, there was no reason to see this as overly controversial: As White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain recently told NBC's Chuck Todd, "It's common sense, Chuck. If [the government] can tell people to wear a hard hat on the job, to be careful around chemicals, it could put in place these simple measures to keep our workers safe."
What's more, there's ample evidence that this approach is, and has been, quite effective: Employers with vaccine requirements have seen the vast majority of their workforce do the right thing.
Many congressional Republicans, however, have condemned the policy on philosophical grounds — to the point that several GOP lawmakers said they would rather shut down the federal government during a deadly pandemic than allow the administration's policy to continue.
It's not that Republicans think the White House policy doesn't work, it's that they didn't care whether the policy works or not. It's a classic example of the Republican Party's post-policy approach to governing: GOP lawmakers were simply indifferent to the efficacy of the vaccine policy, instead objecting to it because of their poorly-thought-out ideological beliefs about "freedom."
And so, as the shutdown deadline approached, a handful of Senate Republicans made a rather specific threat: They were prepared to force a shutdown unless members voted, up or down, on an amendment that would've defunded the administration's vaccine policy.
Eager to avoid a dumb crisis, Democrats agreed to the deal, confident that the amendment wouldn't pass. That assumption was accurate: The amendment needed a simple majority to pass, but it ended up with 48 votes.
In fact, literally every Senate Republican on the floor at the time — including the ostensible "moderates," such as Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — voted for the amendment to defund Biden's policy, regardless of its efficacy. (Two GOP senators missed the vote, but in all likelihood, had Tennessee's Bill Hagerty and South Dakota's John Thune been on the floor at the time, they would've voted with their party.)
Yes, as the dust settles, it's obviously a good thing that the parties managed to work something out. But let's not brush past the extraordinary details: Republican lawmakers were so outraged by a policy that's proven effective at mitigating the spread of a deadly contagion that they were prepared to shut down their own country's federal government.
These are not the tactics of a governing party.
The next shutdown deadline is Feb. 18. Good luck to us all.