In talks with the Hill, the administration has emphasized the urgency of its full $22.5 billion request, sending lawmakers lists of pandemic programs that are low on cash, and circulating internal projections for when supplies of specific treatments and vaccines will be exhausted.
Many Democrats say a compromise with Republicans is still possible, but concede it will be an uphill battle to win GOP support for a second agreement. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) spoke to the White House this week about a path forward for Covid aid relief, but said Republicans need to know where and how the previous money was spent.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) predicted that the odds of 10 Republicans supporting a Covid relief package are “not good” if the money doesn’t come from repurposed funds. Ultimately, GOP votes will depend on offsets, he said.
“It would have passed, they could have had it,” Thune said. “Now… this is a whole different conversation.”
Democrats acknowledge the far simpler path was to pass the aid as part of the bipartisan spending deal, which included sweeteners for the GOP like huge Pentagon funding increases and Ukrainian aid.
Now, the two parties must try to make a deal on pandemic aid alone, after a rebellion from several House Democrats forced party leaders to scuttle plans to include that money in the broader package. Those Democrats objected to party leaders’ plan to pay for a big chunk of that cash by repurposing hundreds of millions of dollars in certain states’ unused state pandemic aid.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) of the path forward in the Senate. “I think we’ve put together a responsible bipartisan approach, I’m sorry the House didn’t approve it.”
Durbin complained that some of the House Democrats refused to support it over a “small, small percentage of federal funds” that their states would have lost: “It really was not too much to ask considering the gravity of the situation.”
But the multiple House Democrats who did oppose the legislation felt strongly they had no choice. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he was prepared to buck his own party’s leadership for the first time in 18 years….
Here’s a more strident look at the Covid funding problem that needs to be addressed by Congress since another Covid variant surge is probably on its way from China and Europe….
Ed Yong: “This week, Congress nixed $15 billion in coronavirus funding from a $1.5 trillion spending bill, which President Joe Biden then signed on Tuesday. The decision is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly.”
“Next week, the government will have to cut shipments of monoclonal-antibody treatments by a third. In April, it will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated and infected. Come June, it won’t be able to support domestic testing manufacturers. It can’t buy extra doses of antiviral pills or infection-preventing treatments that immunocompromised people are banking on but were already struggling to get.”
“It will need to scale back its efforts to improve vaccination rates in poor countries, which increases the odds that dangerous new variants will arise. If such variants arise, they’ll likely catch the U.S. off guard, because surveillance networks will have to be scaled back too. Should people need further booster shots, the government won’t have enough for everyone.”