Congressional Covid funding deal appears ‘dead’ after GOP criticism
“Washington operates on a relationship of trust between the respective parties,” Romney said during a Senate Health Committee hearing on Thursday, noting that the White House has repeatedly asserted that it has exhausted covid funding and does not could not redirect other expenses. “I hope there’s an appreciation that for the administration to say they couldn’t buy these things and then after several months to embezzle funds and then buy them is unacceptable, and makes our ability to work together …very heartbroken.”
Biden officials said last week they had no choice but to reallocate about $10 billion from other covid priorities, such as testing, to buying more coronavirus vaccines and treatments. , as Congress had been unable to reach an agreement.
In interviews Thursday, three administration officials insisted that the White House had been transparent about their needs and spending, and that Republicans had continually found new reasons to oppose efforts to obtain additional covid funds.
“We have tried to meet with Republicans at their requests, and they continue to move the goal posts,” said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the issue.
“Since January, we have worked with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, on covid response funding needs,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement, bragging. the “countless” briefings and conference calls, and hundreds of pages of funding documents shared with lawmakers. “We have also been very clear about the consequences of a lack of funding…including the very real possibility that we will have to re-evaluate the intended uses of existing funds.”
Biden administration officials originally considered more than $80 billion in additional covid funding late last year and submitted a request for $30 billion in February. That target was reduced to around $22 billion in March as Romney and other Republicans pressed the White House to account for trillions of dollars in past coronavirus spending.
In a March 23 information sessionThen-White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients warned of ‘severe’ and ‘immediate’ consequences if Congress failed to act, citing near-depletion of funds to cover testing and treatment costs for uninsured Americans, the reduced availability of treatments for the immunocompromised and longer-term questions about vaccines and testing capacity.
The following week, Romney, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and other lawmakers announced a tentative agreement for $10 billion in new funding, but the deal stalled. collapsed when Democrats raised questions about cutting international aid from the package. and lawmakers from both sides have opposed a separate plan to lift pandemic restrictions at the border.
Testifying Thursday, top Biden health officials warned that the virus was evolving to evade existing vaccine protections and that the country must be ready to invest in new vaccines and treatments. Millions of vaccinated and boosted Americans have been sickened by the latest wave of omicron subvariants that have swept the country – including Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who has been forced to testify remotely due to his own covid infection.
“I am deeply concerned that a lack of additional funding for other response activities will halt or significantly reduce critical covid response work,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the panel chair, argued in her remarks that preparing the nation for the next stage of the pandemic should be a top priority for Congress.
“Democrats have been hammering this house for months — we’ve been shouting from the rooftops, warning what’s in danger if we don’t do this,” Murray said. “The fact that the administration had to resort to allocating resources from our long-term needs to keep our short-term response afloat – that’s not a solution. It’s a palliative. And that should be a clear sign of the urgency for Congress to act.
But Romney raised questions about why the administration hadn’t reallocated funding more quickly, and Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), the top Republican on the panel, chastised Biden officials for their testimony.
“It’s the best orchestrated event I’ve seen in my 28 years here,” Burr said. “It was designed to pressure Republicans into opening a checkbook, signing the check, and letting the administration make up the balance.”
The Republicans’ comments echoed beyond Capitol Hill to Wall Street, where analysts have expressed doubts that the administration will be able to secure 60 votes for a funding package that passes the Senate without Romney and Burr, who had both spent weeks trying to help secure before compromise.
“New COVID funding is probably dead,” financial services firm Raymond James wrote in a note to investors on Thursday. “We are very skeptical that more COVID money will be made available and believe that the administration will now need to move more quickly to a system where COVID vaccines, treatments and tests are provided through the traditional supply chain and the U.S. healthcare system purchasing device. ”
The memo’s author, former Trump administration health care official Chris Meekins, said in an interview that Romney’s comments appear to rule out the prospect of future compromises. “I don’t see a way to get 10 Senate Republicans to support the bill,” Meekins said.