Senate Republicans are slowing a short-term bill to keep the government open over alleged funding for drug paraphernalia and a vaccine mandate for federal workers, contractors and the military.
The bill, which would keep the government funded through March 11 and buys top appropriators more time to reach a broader funding deal, passed the House last week with bipartisan support. It has until Friday to be signed into law, otherwise the government could temporarily shut down.
But upon reaching the Senate, the bill was met with a hold, spearheaded by Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn. She cited reporting from The Washington Free Beacon that said that the Department of Health and Human Services would provide $30 million to local governments and nonprofits in the form of kits to make drug use safer, including crack pipes and needles.
The White House pushed back against the Free Beacon’s “inaccurate reporting,” and press secretary Jen Psaki said that the kits may include “alcohol swabs, lip balm, and other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.”
Separately, Utah Sen. Mike Lee led a letter signed by six Republicans demanding that the Senate first vote to amend the bill and bar the federal government from funding a vaccine mandate on federal employees, contractors and military members.
“We will continue to stand against these mandates until they are discontinued in ambition, design, and practice,” they wrote in the letter, first reported by Fox News. “For that reason, we are writing to let you know that we will not consent to a time agreement that eases passage of the Continuing Resolution (“CR”) now before the Senate absent an agreement to allow for a roll call vote on an amendment that defunds the enforcement of these vaccine mandates for the spending period covered by the CR.”
While holds can be broken if 60 senators decide to do so, they can delay a bill’s progression through the Senate, not to mention that any changes made to the short-term bill would require that it again pass the House.
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