Rubio Holds Up Funding Bill

Rubio Holds Up Funding Bill

© Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Congress is facing a deadline of Friday midnight to pass a stop-gap funding bill and avoid a shutdown, but a handful of Republican senators are slowing the effort to get a quick vote on a continuing resolution that would keep the government open until March 11.

While Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has dropped her hold on the stop-gap bill after receiving assurances from the Department of Health and Human Services that federal funds will not be used to provide crack pipes to drug users, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-LF) is now pushing a separate piece of legislation that would prohibit the federal government from supplying pipes and other paraphernalia to drug users.

The Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems (PIPES) Act, introduced by Rubio and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), would make it illegal to use federal funding to “to purchase needles or syringes for the injection of any illegal drug, unless there is a significant risk of hepatitis infection or HIV outbreak due to injection drug use.” Leaders are reportedly checking with all 100 senators to see if there are any objections; if not, the bill could pass on an expedited basis this week.

"My hope is we can just pass it without anybody objecting to it. Especially since the administration is already claiming they don't need it — they're not going to do that," Rubio said.

In addition to Rubio’s bill, a group of conservatives led by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah are demanding a vote on an amendment that would block vaccine mandates. And Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) wants a vote on an amendment that would require Congress to balance the federal budget. Neither amendment is expected to pass.

The bottom line: Once again, Congress is cutting it close on a vote to avoid a government shutdown. But the delays should be short-lived, and the funding bill is expected to pass before the deadline. “It looks to me like we’re on a glide path to getting it done pretty quick,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters.