Senate Approves $8.3 Billion Coronavirus Bill

March 6, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
In this image from video, presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted 96-1 on Thursday to approve $8.3 billion in funding to fight the coronavirus, sending the measure to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

The House overwhelmingly approved the same measure Wednesday with a bipartisan vote of 415-2.

The bill provides $7.76 billion to agencies combating the coronavirus. It also authorizes another $500 million in waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions.

The measure includes $2.2 billion to help federal, state and local public health agencies prepare for and respond to the coronavirus, allocating funds for everything from lab testing to locating individuals who might have had contact with infected people.

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 99 U.S. cases in 13 states, and 10 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“What we have learned from combatting similar viruses … is that time is of the essence,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. 

The subcommittee oversees the nation’s health care industry.

About $435 million in the emergency supplemental package supports foreign efforts to control coronavirus. Another $300 million would respond to humanitarian needs.

Congress is approving far more than the Trump administration’s suggested $1.25 billion. Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the president for what they described as his weak response.

During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday, Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, testified about the amount of funding needed.

“In 2009, Congress appropriated $7.7 billion for the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and in 2014, $5.4 billion was appropriated for the Ebola response,” he said in his testimony. “COVID-19 will require perhaps twice as much money as Ebola or more.”

COVID-19 is the medical term for coronavirus. U.S. health officials say it could take a year-and-half to develop a vaccine.

In China, where the virus started, the government is reporting its prevention efforts have slowed the spread of the disease. Nevertheless, it is being reported in about 100 countries.

Several House and Senate hearings have been held in recent days leading to the vote on the $8.3 billion emergency funding. Many of them included comments from lawmakers criticizing the Trump administration.

They accused President Donald Trump of downplaying the threat in a way that could help fuel the epidemic if Americans remain unprepared.

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing to seek answers from senior administration health officials about what they are doing to control the outbreak.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tried to defend the Trump administration by testifying about what he called a “multi-layered, aggressive containment” effort by U.S. health officials. It includes targeted travel restrictions, quarantines and working with the World Health Organization to combat the virus internationally.

“The risk to the American public is low,” Redfield said.

Some lawmakers asked whether the outbreak that started in China could lead to xenophobia toward persons of Asian descent, such as by refusing to have any contact with them.

Redfield said xenophobia has “no role in public health.”

He also cautioned against panic reactions, such as buying masks to wear in public. He said they were unnecessary now and could lead to a shortage.

“These masks really need to be prioritized for health care practitioners or people who have the virus and are quarantined at home,” Redfield said.

Some lawmakers were skeptical about whether the risk to Americans is small.

Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, said most coronavirus patients infect two or three persons before they are diagnosed with the disease, which has a two-week incubation period.

“There could be a whole cluster of cases,” Lieu said.


High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship
Supreme Court
High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship

WASHINGTON (AP) — As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The justices split 5-4 with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the... Read More

Rep. Neal Eyes Massive Coronavirus Relief, Climate and Infrastructure Package
Rep. Neal Eyes Massive Coronavirus Relief, Climate and Infrastructure Package

WASHINGTON — House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal's attitude toward legislating under a Democratic-led White House might aptly be described as "never let a crisis go to waste." The Massachusetts Democrat wants to take a page from his party's 2009 playbook, when the Obama administration took office amid the wreckage of... Read More

Opening of 117th Congress Will be Different Due to Pandemic
Opening of 117th Congress Will be Different Due to Pandemic

WASHINGTON — When the 117th Congress convenes in January, COVID-19 precautions will prevent the 435 House members from gathering in the chamber together, so opening day festivities of swearing in members and electing the speaker will look a little different. House leaders have begun discussing how to carry out... Read More

Stabenow Says Smaller Coronavirus Relief Bill Better Than Nothing
Stabenow Says Smaller Coronavirus Relief Bill Better Than Nothing

WASHINGTON — A top Senate Democrat said Tuesday that she's engaged in bipartisan discussions on COVID-19 aid and urged quick action even if that means "a short-term package for the next few months." "We need to act," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., the fourth-ranking Democrat in that chamber... Read More

COVID Test Crunch Means Hours-long Waits Before Thanksgiving
COVID Test Crunch Means Hours-long Waits Before Thanksgiving

You can bring wine to Thanksgiving, bring sweet potatoes, bring congealed salad if you must. But you can't bring COVID-19, and that's causing hours-long lines at U.S. testing centers, triggering desperation among people yet to be cleared for the holiday meal. They're waiting outside even as health officials warn... Read More

White House Still Planning Holiday Parties, Despite Warnings
White House
White House Still Planning Holiday Parties, Despite Warnings

WASHINGTON (AP) — All those warnings from public health officials begging Americans to limit gatherings this holiday season amid a surge in coronavirus cases aren't stopping the White House from planning a host of festivities and holiday parties in the midst of a pandemic. Monday's delivery... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top