Senate negotiators announce deal on smaller COVID19 spending proposal without global vaccine funding
By Emily Cochrane, Alexandra E. Petri and Aina J. Khan
Senators announced a deal on a $10 billion coronavirus aid package earlier this week to provide additional aid for domestic testing, vaccination and treatment efforts, after dropping a push to include billions for the global vaccination effort.
The agreement requires at least $5 billion to be set aside for therapeutics and $750 million for research and clinical trials to prepare for future variants. The remaining funds will be used for vaccines and testing.
It does not include $5 billion in funding for the global vaccination effort that had previously been proposed, after senators spent the weekend haggling over a Republican demand to claw back money Congress previously approved.
The package was announced by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Both have led negotiations in recent days. In a statement, Schumer said that President Joe Biden supported the agreement, even though it was less than half of the White House’s original $22.5 billion request.
“This $10 billion COVID package will give the federal government — and our citizens — the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe,” Schumer said in a statement. “While this emergency injection of additional funding is absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep us safe from the COVID-19 virus over the long-term.”
He added that he planned for additional bipartisan negotiations over another emergency aid package that could include both aid for the global vaccination effort and additional assistance for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion.
“Every dollar we requested is essential, and we will continue to work with Congress to get all of the funding we need, but time is of the essence,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs, as we currently run the risk of not having some critical tools like treatments and tests starting in May and June.”
The domestic spending is paid for largely by repurposing unspent money that was approved in March 2021 in the $1.9 trillion pandemic law that Democrats pushed through without any Republican votes, as well as some funds from the $2.2 trillion law approved under the Trump administration, a key Republican demand.
Among the programs and agencies affected are a grant program for shuttered venues, the Economic Injury Disaster loan program and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, as well as agriculture and transportation funding, according to summaries provided by the two offices.
In a separate statement, Romney called for the legislation to receive broad bipartisan support and added that he was “willing to explore a fiscally responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead.”
Lawmakers are pushing to move the aid package through before the end of the week, when both chambers are scheduled to leave for a two-week recess. It is unclear if there will be enough support for such a swift timeline, given that Senate Democrats aim to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court this week and all 100 lawmakers would have to agree to waive procedural hurdles to speed up the process.
Multiple House Democrats have also expressed frustration with the omission of the global vaccination aid, which is central to Biden’s strategy of reducing vaccine inequality and limiting the effect of the next coronavirus variant.
“Without global vaccination funding, we are simply not tackling the problem of COVID,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Twitter.
Several Democrats, however, said the urgent need to provide domestic aid was enough to warrant their support.
“I understand that domestic public health spending is also urgently needed, and so I intend to vote for this bill,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., one of the negotiators, said in a statement. “However, this is only a partial step, and I will push my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a robust international funding bill in the coming weeks to address pandemic-related needs and the growing global hunger and food security crisis.”
Recent efforts to pass an initial $15.6 billion COVID-19 package collapsed last month when House Democrats balked at clawing back money that had been set aside for state governments in last year’s law.
Those funds remained untouched in the current plan. But the measure also includes a bipartisan bill, led by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., that will give state, local and tribal governments more flexibility in how coronavirus aid is spent.
While access to vaccines has gradually expanded around the world, administering the shots remains a challenge. In many low-income countries, only about 15% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, compared with about 80% of the population in many middle- and high-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.