Senate Republicans Block Debate on COVID-19 Relief
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt Tuesday to begin debate on a $10 billion COVID-19 compromise, hoping to force inclusion of an amendment that would prevent President Joe Biden from lifting Trump-era restrictions on migrants entering the U.S.
The sour turn of events came just a day after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and chief Republican negotiator Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced a deal in principle to provide money for domestic treatments, vaccines and testing.
Democrats responded today by trying to advance a procedural measure to begin debate on the package.
However by the time they did, restive Republicans had already announced they’d withhold their support if Biden’s plan to end the ban on migrants entering the country on May 23 is implemented.
Without the support of Republicans, the procedural vote failed, 52-47.
All 50 Republicans opposed moving forward with debate on the COVID relief package, leaving Democrats 13 votes short of the 60 they needed to overcome the filibuster.
Today’s outcome means the route to a deal on COVID relief has been on two disparate tracks for days, with the two never being truly close to meeting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that it would lift the asylum ban, known as Title 42, next month.
In doing so, it acknowledged the ban had become increasingly hard to justify as pandemic restrictions ended around the country.
By delaying the end of Title 42 for nearly two months, to May 23, Biden appeared to be trying to strike a balance between liberals in Congress, who want the policy scrapped altogether, and moderates who are far closer, philosophically, to their Republican colleagues on the issue in supporting continued restrictions.
While these machinations played out through the weekend, Schumer and Romney continued to talk, finally achieving a breakthrough in which both sides got something, if not everything they wanted, when it came to COVID relief.
In the end, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., summed up the situation simply: There will have to be a vote on the immigration issue “in order to move the [COVID relief] bill” forward.
On Tuesday night, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki laid out the administration’s response in a written statement.
“It is disappointing that Senate Republicans voted down consideration of a much-needed bill to purchase vaccines, boosters, and life-saving treatments for the American people,” Psaki said. “As we have repeatedly said, there are consequences for Congress failing to fund our COVID Response.
“The program that reimbursed doctors, pharmacists and other providers for vaccinating the uninsured had to end today due to a lack of funds,” she said. “America’s supply of monoclonal antibodies that are effective at keeping people out of the hospital will run out as soon as late May. Our test manufacturing capacity will begin ramping down at the end of June.
“Today’s Senate vote is a step backward for our ability to respond to this virus. We will continue to work with the House and Senate to move this vital legislation forward,” she added.
As for Schumer, he called the outcome of Tuesday’s procedural vote “potentially devastating” for “every single American who was worried about the possibility of a new variant rearing its nasty head within a few months.”
The vote comes as a new omicron variant, BA.2, is expected to lead to a new increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States.
Already, about 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from the disease.
As part of the Schumer/Romney compromise, the COVID relief bill had already been paired down from the $22.5 billion Biden originally sought to $10 billion that could be financed by pulling back unspent pandemic funds provided earlier for protecting aviation manufacturing jobs, closed entertainment venues and other programs.
At least half the bill would finance research and production of therapeutics to treat COVID-19. Money would also be used to buy vaccines and tests and to research new variants.
Among the things that most aggrieved Democrats about the proposed package, as previously reported by The Well News, was the elimination of $5 billion Biden wanted to battle the pandemic overseas.
It was cut after neither side could agree to cuts to the existing federal budget to pay for it.