Funds for COVID treatment and testing for the uninsured have already expired, and money for extra vaccine doses and therapeutic treatments will shortly follow. Given the urgency, Politico is reporting that the Senate is getting closer to a $10 Billion deal for COVID relief funds. Most of the bill’s funds would be rerouted from money included in the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package.
Negotiations began last week, centering around repurposing unused funds from earlier in the pandemic. There was a difference in urgency regarding both sides–Democrats wanted to pass more money quickly, warning we don’t have enough for the next round of boosters. Republicans wanted to account for the past year of COVID spending before more funds got allocated. Despite this, there seems to be a deal on the horizon–at least in the Senate.
“We’re close. A few more things have got to be ironed out,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in an interview. “We’re trying to get global stuff in there, We’re working hard on it. That’s one of the things we’re trying to get done.”
A major difference is money for global vaccination efforts, a main priority of the Biden administration. The original ask was for $5 billion–as it stands now, it would be close to $1 billion. It’s baffling, considering the way to get out of the pandemic is to help less fortunate countries access vaccines.
“In general, the two parties see where we are on Covid and spending and offsets, very differently,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “I appreciate that Sen. Romney came out and said he wants some way to increase the international [funding]. Because to have zero international would be a huge mistake in the middle of a global humanitarian crisis.”
Before the deal is passed, there are still some steps to go. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) says they’re still waiting on a score from the Congressional Budget Office. The total number is still not agreed upon, and the package would face a vote in the House. House Democrats like Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) are steadfast in including the needed money for global vaccine aid.
“I continue to be mystified by the willingness of some at the White House to deprioritize what every expert would agree is the most important and cost-effective thing we can do to protect ourselves,” Malinowski said of the administration’s decision to sign off on the deal without global funding.
The White House originally asked for nearly $22.5 billion, and a $15 billion measure was defeated in the House a couple of weeks ago. Half of the $10 billion total would be spent on therapeutic medicines that treat Covid–the other would be used to “ research “long Covid” and potentially tweak the vaccine to protect against new variants of the virus.”