Senate strikes $10 billion Covid aid deal despite Dem frustrations
” We are close. A few other things need to be ironed out,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview. “We try to incorporate global elements into it, we work hard on it. That’s one of the things we try to do.”
The sum — the result of days of negotiations between senior senators from both sides — would leave out a major White House demand. It does not include $5 billion in global vaccine efforts, prompting strong complaints from many Democrats about the country’s preparedness to fight the pandemic abroad. Lawmakers are now talking about a figure closer to $1 billion in vaccine aid.
“Generally, both sides view where we are on Covid and expenses and compensation, very differently,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said. “I appreciate that Senator Romney came out and said he wanted a way to increase the international [funding]. Because having zero international would be a huge mistake in the midst of a global humanitarian crisis.
Trying to break a filibuster in the Senate will require the support of at least 10 Republicans, a vote Schumer could call next week – early hope for a test vote on Thursday faded by midday. Meanwhile, next week’s floor schedule will be dominated by the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, heightening the potential urgency of a vote.
Leading senators from both parties began serious negotiations this week on a revised aid package, after an earlier version collapsed in the House over objections from several Democrats over how to pay the aid. Schumer negotiated closely with GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Roy Blunt (Month), Richard Burer (NC) and Lindsay Graham (SC). Democratic Meaning. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Coons are also part of the negotiations.
“They’re about to make a deal on $10 [billion]”, the senator. John Corny (R-Texas) said of the closed-door efforts. “10 billion dollars is a lot of money.”
The senators said there were still a few hurdles to overcome before a floor vote. Romney said they are still waiting for a score from the Congressional Budget Office, and Murray said the total amount is still in flux and it’s too early to say their job is done.
The full price would be covered by forgoing other funding, including more than $2 billion in unused aid for places like zoos and theaters that have been closed due to Covid, Sen. Blunt said.
Most of the bill’s funds would be diverted from money included in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law a year ago. Romney said “we have reached an agreement in principle on all expenses and all compensation.”
The full package could empty the chamber in the coming days and head to the House, where many Democrats are unhappy with the plan to drastically reduce the size of the package. Negotiations in the Senate are needed after House Democrats torpedoed an earlier version of the package, as individual members fought efforts to fund the effort with leftover Covid money allocated to their states.
“I think what Republicans do is they either don’t care or they don’t know. But that’s not true,” the president said. Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday, though she didn’t say her caucus would refuse to consider a scaled-down version.
Several House Democrats are already threatening to withhold support for a pandemic bill that does not include the $5 billion in global vaccine funds. Even if they can’t negotiate a higher price, several lawmakers have said they will require that at least some of the funding be dedicated to international health efforts.
“I simply cannot support another round of Covid funding that completely eviscerates our ability to be, as Joe Biden put it, the vaccine arsenal for the world,” the rep said. Tom Malinowski (DN.J.) said. “We have to get it right.”
“I continue to be mystified by the willingness of some in the White House to deprioritize what all the experts would agree is the most important and cost-effective thing we can do to protect ourselves,” Malinowski said of the management’s decision to sign the deal without global funding.
GOP senators launched the $10 billion aid package on Wednesday — cutting back on a previously brokered $15.6 billion deal that collapsed in the House earlier this month. It’s also far less than the White House’s initial request of nearly $22.5 billion, which included requests for tests, therapies and vaccines – including injections for children under 5, which could be approved in the coming months. The latest GOP proposal was first reported by The Hill.
Under the emerging deal, part of the funding would come from the education and agriculture accounts, plus some money supposed to be spent on manufacturing planes. No money would be withdrawn from general pandemic relief to state and local governments.
Half of the roughly $10 billion total would be spent on therapeutic drugs that treat Covid. The Biden administration could use the other half for a wide range of pandemic health work, including researching ‘long Covid’ and potentially adjusting the vaccine to protect against new variants of the virus, a Blunt said.
After Congress’ initial funding deal with Covid failed, the White House increased pressure on lawmakers to deliver quickly. Officials have repeatedly warned that they lack the funds to restock vaccines with another potential wave of Omicron on the horizon, among other urgent needs.
The fight for funding is expected to drag on even after final passage, since $10 billion is only enough to keep federal pandemic efforts running for a few months. Blunt said he expects the White House will “soon” have to ask Congress for a new influx of money to fund federal work on Covid treatments, vaccines and testing over the summer.
Pelosi, among other Democrats, also expressed concern about the Senate’s plan to reduce the size of the package during a closed meeting of lawmakers earlier Thursday, according to multiple people in the room.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) Thursday did not say whether the House would make any changes of its own to the deal, likening it to an unfinished culinary creation: “It’s not yet jelly. It’s not chicken salad yet. We will wait to see.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.