WASHINGTON – The Senate is scrambling to agree on $15 billion Covid-19 help Bill before members go on a two week break late next week.
Democrats say US is running out of funds Vaccines, tests and treatment for Covid-19and the Biden administration has warned that the pandemic cash shortage comes at a critical moment in the coronavirus pandemic.
The party is pushing for a quick deal, saying any funding gap would put the country at risk of being unprepared for new waves of Covid-19. the BA.2 Omicron subvariant of the virus has become the dominant strain of the disease in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
“We want to make sure we don’t get to a point where we don’t have vaccinations and testing available, so it needs to be done as soon as possible,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he was optimistic a deal could be reached, but conceded Wednesday morning that “we’re not at the finish line yet.”
Still, Democratic negotiators must meet challenges from their Republican counterparts, who are demanding that previously allocated but unspent Covid funds be used for continued pandemic funding.
“In my opinion, it should be paid for entirely from funds already in the pipeline, reprogramming it for whatever amount they can justify to get the job done,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told R-Ky ., on Tuesday.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the GOP’s chief negotiator, said Tuesday he still doesn’t have the support of nine other Republican members needed for a deal, saying, “We’re making progress, and hopefully we’ll get there soon.” .” He also insisted the money be taken from one of the previous Covid relief bills.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., was less optimistic about the pace of negotiations. “It’s not moving fast anywhere. Let’s put it that way,” he said.
A bipartisan group of senators involved in negotiating the package met at Schumer’s office Wednesday night but left without a breakthrough or a clear plan on how to pay the bill.
“There’s a gap between where we would go and where they would go,” Romney said after the meeting. “They provided us with a list today and their list and our list are different. So we’re going to work through the differences and see if we can reach a disagreement, and we can or we can’t.”
The White House and Democrats have been discussing new ways to foot the bill. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said about $13 billion worth of untapped disaster relief could be used in America’s rescue plan.
President Joe Biden asked Congress to do so on Wednesday to act quickly in a speech on the country’s pandemic response. He also got his fourth shot of the Pfizer vaccine in front of a group of reporters and photographers a day after the CDC recommended that people age 50 and older get a second booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines after studies showed a decrease in the protection had shown over time.
“Americans are living their lives again. We can’t give that up now. Congress, please act. You need to act now,” Biden said. “The consequences of inaction are grave. They only grow over time, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The lack of a financing agreement has already taken place had an impact.
In the past two weeks, the Biden administration has had to “stop reimbursement for healthcare providers for treatment of the uninsured, cancel monoclonal antibody orders and cut state supplies, reduce orders for immunocompromised treatments, and pull the U.S. out of line going forward vaccine and the purchase of next-generation treatments,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
After initially agreeing on a $15.6 billion virus-fighting infusion in a massive government expenses bill This month, Congress withdrew the money at the eleventh hour amid Republican opposition and defectors from a small group of Democrats who opposed paying for it, diverting some existing funds.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said some Democrats were working on a backup plan and called for Biden to declare an emergency to reallocate defense funds to meet Covid needs . They noted that then-President Donald Trump declared border security a national emergency in order to use Department of Defense funds to pay for part of his border wall.
House Democrats said the ball is in Senate court after a closed session on Tuesday.
Pocan said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sent members a notice “that we will be waiting for a Senate bill.”
Julie Tsirkin, Ali Vitali and Frank Thorp v contributed.