US Senate passes a stopgap spending bill that avoids a short-term shutdown and funds the federal government through February 18 after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal vaccine mandates.

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate.
Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate. (AFP)

The US Congress has approved a stopgap funding bill in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and avert a costly holiday season government shutdown.

With the clock ticking down to the 11:59 pm Friday deadline, the Senate on Thursday evening voted by 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18 with a resolution that had already advanced from the House.

The "continuing resolution" avoids millions of public workers being sent home unpaid with Christmas approaching, as parks, museums and other federal properties and services closed.

"I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed –– the government will stay open," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown."

780,000 dead

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate, where a small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure in protest over the White House's pandemic response.

But Democrats agreed to allow a straight majority vote on defunding President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, which promptly failed as expected.

The right-wing Republican group, led by Utah's senior senator Mike Lee, argues that the mandate is an assault on personal liberty.

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and the troubling new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.

But legal challenges have mounted against Biden's edict requiring vaccination or weekly tests for some sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees.

First-ever US debt default

Lee had campaigned to remove federal funding to implement the mandate and was backed by right wingers in both chambers.

"If the choice is between temporarily suspending non-essential functions on the one hand and, on the other hand, standing idle as up to 45 million Americans lose their jobs, their livelihoods and their ability to work, I'll stand with American workers every time," he said.

Lawmakers are also deadlocked over the prospect of a first-ever US debt default that would erase an estimated six million jobs and wipe out $15 trillion of household wealth, tanking the economy.

The government is likely to run out of cash on or soon after December 15, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap.

But Republicans say they won't help, despite having pressed for hikes under former president Donald Trump, because they want no part in the Democrats' historically large package of social reforms.

Source: AFP