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Senate Negotiators Reach Deal on COVID Relief Package

April 5, 2022 by Dan McCue
Senate Negotiators Reach Deal on COVID Relief Package
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives in the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, March 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON — Senate negotiators reached an agreement late Monday afternoon on a slimmed-down $10 billion COVID relief package that preserves vaccine and treatment regimes here, but eliminates virtually all funding for similar programs abroad.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the deal shortly before 5 p.m. Monday afternoon, saying he and lead Republican negotiator Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, had worked through the weekend to bring the package to fruition.

“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, noting it will provide the Biden administration with “urgently needed funding” to purchase vaccines and therapeutics, maintain access to testing and accelerate next generation vaccine research.

Still, Schumer said he was disappointed Senate Republicans would not agree to include $5 billion in global health funding that was originally included but ultimately omitted from the 2022 Omnibus package.

Schumer said he would continue to work to include that funding in separate legislation.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Schumer said.

Romney said the Senate Republicans had insisted from the beginning of negotiations that any new requests for COVID funding from the administration be paid for by repurposing existing funds from the nearly $6 trillion in COVID legislation that the Senate has already passed.

“Today’s agreement does just that by repurposing $10 billion to provide needed domestic COVID health response tools,” Romney said. “Half of the funding will be used for the development and purchase of therapeutics – potentially eliminating the need for future vaccine and mask mandates.

“Importantly, this bill consists of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar,” he said. “While this agreement does not include funding for the U.S. global vaccination program, I am willing to explore a fiscally-responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead.”

Though Biden had initially sought a $22.5 billion COVID relief package, the White House was quick to throw its support behind the package.

“Every dollar we requested is essential and we will continue to work with Congress to get all of the funding we need,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing with reporters Monday afternoon.

“But time is of the essence. We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs,” she said.

At least one Senate Democrat, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, expressed misgivings about the agreement, saying, “failing to include any international spending in this bill is a grave mistake.”

“But it goes far beyond that,” he continued. “It is fiscally foolish, risking the chance that tens of millions of vaccines our government has already paid for go to waste.”

According to a breakdown released by Romney, the deal will provide $10 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services, all of it going into the Public Health and Social Services Emergency fund.

At least $5 billion of that would go toward researching, producing and purchasing therapeutics, with at least $750 million for COVID-19 vaccine research and manufacturing to address new variants.

The rest would go towards purchase and distribution of vaccines and tests.

The “Payfor” commitments were the critical part of achieving the deal. As spelled out by Romney, they amount to $10 billion in dollar-for-dollar offsets, accomplished through the repurposing of unspent COVID-relief funds.

These offsets and the use from which they were repurposed are as follows:

  • SBA Shuttered Venues Operators Grants—$1.93 billion
  • SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans—$900 million
  • USDA ARP and CARES—$1.6 billion
  • Transportation Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Program—$2.31 billion
  • Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund—$500 million
  • Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund—$887 million
  • Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative—$1.873 billion*
  • Note: Rescinds $2.13 billion in budget authority to yield an outlay savings of $1.873 billion 

Still uncertain Monday was whether objections by some Republicans might prevent the Senate from considering the bill this week, as Biden wants, before Congress begins a two-week spring recess.

It was also not yet certain there would be the minimum 10 GOP votes needed for passage in the 50-50 chamber.

Its fate was also not guaranteed in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and many liberals have criticized withdrawal of global assistance.

On Monday night, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said, “We have made great progress in defeating the coronavirus pandemic, but additional resources are needed to prepare for future surges and end the spread of COVID-19 once and for all.

“I am glad the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement to provide $10 billion in desperately needed funding for vaccines, therapeutics, testing, and treatments, but I am deeply disappointed that it does not provide funding to support global vaccination efforts – both from a humanitarian perspective and our own self-interest,” she said.

“Viruses do not stop at borders on a map. No amount of domestic preparedness can possibly contend with a continuing onslaught of new variants, and the United States must take a leadership role,” DeLauro continued. “That the Republicans are demanding an offset for this emergency funding is disconnected from the reality that the pandemic still looms.

“While I support these additional domestic resources, I will continue working with my colleagues to provide additional emergency funding to finally end the spread of COVID-19 and help our communities move forward,” she added.

The agreement comes with BA.2, the new omicron variant, expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. cases.

Around 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began two years ago.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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