It was shaping up to be one of those titanic battles in congressional history: liberty vs. tyranny; federal power vs. individual rights; the Republican right vs. the Republican center.
Instead, Democratic Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer did the thing least wanted by the GOP right: He gave them an up or down vote on the vaccine mandate.
It was wholly unexpected. The GOP right had been demanding an up or down vote, and Schumer gave it to them. But he gave them the vote when he knew that two Republican senators would be absent from the floor.
Instead of a long, drawn-out process of posturing and speechifying ending in a white knuckle vote on whether to fund the government, the right-wing Republicans struck a deal with Schumer: Give us a vote to defund vaccine mandates and we’ll vote to proceed with the spending bill.
The vote to end funding for the vaccine mandate failed 50-48.
Conservatives will argue they got something out of this drama: a vote on their issue. In reality, it was a face-saving measure. The far-right started out demanding that Congress effectively scuttle the mandates, then reduced their ask to a mere vote they knew would fail, ensuring smooth passage of a continuing resolution a full 30 hours before the shutdown deadline.
Another reality: Their shutdown threat was never going to give them what they wanted. Schumer was all too willing to embrace the showdown over vaccines amid the threat of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. Plus, fellow Republicans blasted their demand as irresponsible and pointless.
McConnell and other less insane Republicans tried to make the argument that this was not the vaccine hill to die on. The budget needed to pass for a whole host of spending initiatives that benefit almost every Republican voter in the country.
Next week, however, Senator Michael Braun will bring another bill to the floor and this one may actually have a chance. It’s a resolution disapproving of the OSHA rule to require large businesses to comply with a vaccine mandate. All 50 Republicans have signed on to the resolution, meaning they only need one Democratic vote to succeed. And Senator Joe Manchin has indicated he may very well be that vote.
Since it’s a resolution, it doesn’t need the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. A simple majority will send Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate back to the lower reaches where it originated.
As for the budget, Republicans will be playing defense — at least until 2023. At that point, there will be plenty of fights to fight on spending that won’t involve shutting down the government.