U.S. Senate strikes bipartisan agreement on $10 billion in COVID-19 funding
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate reached a bipartisan deal on pandemic aid funding Monday, settling on $10 billion for added testing, treatment and vaccines.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney released separate statements Monday afternoon announcing the compromise, though Schumer was disappointed negotiators didn’t reach an agreement on billions in global COVID-19 assistance.
“While we were unable to reach an agreement on international aid in this new agreement, many Democrats and Republicans are committed to pursuing a second supplemental later this spring,” Schumer said in his statement. “It is my intention for the Senate to consider a bipartisan International appropriations package that could include additional aid for Ukraine as well as funding to address COVID-19 and food insecurity globally.”
Romney urged his fellow Republicans to back the agreement, saying the new bill will be paid for by reprogramming funding from prior COVID-19 relief legislation that hasn’t yet been spent.
“Importantly, this bill is comprised of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar,” he said in a statement.
Romney didn’t rule out continuing to talk with Democrats on international vaccine aid, saying he is “willing to explore a fiscally-responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki released a statement shortly after the deal calling on Congress to “promptly” pass the legislation.
The Biden administration, she said, would continue talking with lawmakers about ways “to fund our remaining domestic needs” and “to build bipartisan support for a package to fund our global COVID-19 response.”
Less than half of Biden request
The $10 billion funding total announced Monday is less than half of the $22.5 billion the Biden administration asked Congress for at the beginning of March.
This agreement would provide $9.25 billion to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
At least $5 billion of that funding would go toward researching, producing and purchasing therapeutics, with at least $750 million for COVID-19 vaccine research and manufacturing to address new variants of the virus.
The remaining money would go toward purchasing and distributing tests and vaccines.
The announcement comes nearly four weeks after Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to pull a $15.6 billion bipartisan agreement from a much larger government funding bill over objections from numerous lawmakers.
That proposal was scrapped because some of the new spending was paid for by pulling back previously approved COVID-19 money for state governments that hadn’t yet moved from federal accounts to certain states.
‘This is shameful’
Pelosi has not yet released a statement supporting the Senate agreement.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, said during a Thursday press conference that the lower $10 billion price tag that left out billions for global vaccine efforts was “not enough money.”
“This is shameful,” Pelosi said. “It’s not going to last us past, probably, June 1st.”
The legislation pays for all the new spending by reprogramming previously approved COVID-19 funding, including $2.31 billion from the Transportation Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Program, $1.93 billion from the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venues Operators Grants program, $1.873 billion from the U.S. Treasury Department’s State Small Business Credit Initiative, $1.6 billion from the U.S. Agriculture Department’s unspent pandemic aid from two prior bills, $900 million in Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, $887 million from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund and $500 million from the U.S. Education Department’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
Neither the Senate or the House has locked in a time to vote on the bipartisan agreement. Both chambers are set to leave Washington, D.C, at the end of the week for a two-week spring recess.