Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Thursday that congressional negotiators are getting closer to a deal on COVID-19 funding but aren’t there quite yet, as President Biden warns he will run out of tools to fight the pandemic unless lawmakers act.
Mr. Schumer said bipartisan negotiators spoke late into the night but Democrats are demanding a higher price tag than Republicans are willing to accept.
“The gap has been narrowed greatly and we’re intent on working with Republicans to cross the finish line because this is vital for our country if, God forbid, a new variant arises in the future, and that’s all too likely,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Lawmakers are seeking a standalone deal after attempts to add $15 billion in virus funds to a broader spending bill failed. House Democrats balked at repurposing state and local dollars.
Republicans said the White House is sitting on other funds it could use, prompting a flurry of negotiations that could downsize the final package from $15 billion to $10 billion.
An emerging package would aim to satisfy domestic needs for treatments, testing and vaccines while cutting out a portion of global funding devoted to vaccinating the rest of the world, according to a report in The Hill.
Mr. Biden outlined the potential consequences of running out of virus funds on Wednesday. He said the government is cutting back purchases of monoclonal antibody treatments and won’t be able to mass-purchase booster shots if they are needed for the general population by the fall.
“We simply can’t afford to kick the can down the road,” Mr. Schumer said. “It makes no sense to hold off on COVID funding that we know is needed right now. We have to get something done.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday said a federal relief fund that supports vaccinations, testing and other services at medical centers and community health centers is running out of money
“What we’re asking for now is to finish the fight on COVID-19,” Mr. Becerra told House lawmakers at a hearing on his department’s fiscal 2023 budget. “We are running out of the money in that provider-relief fund to reimburse claims submitted by all those different types of doctors, hospitals and so forth.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said she is worried about the fallout both at home and abroad if lawmakers don’t find the money.
“I think there are serious consequences if we cut off support for low-income countries,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “I believe that that is going to hurt us at home if we cannot stop COVID across the world.”
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the committee’s senior Republican, told Mr. Becerra the administration should redirect any money left from last year’s coronavirus relief fund, especially since much of the cash has been diverted to non-virus purposes. But he agreed that time is of the essence.
“I don’t want to get behind the eight-ball here, but I also don’t want to just say it’s OK to send money out willy-nilly to states that are supposed to be for COVID and it’s not being used that way in many areas,” Mr. Cole said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he finds it frustrating that Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies are begging for funds to maintain the pandemic fight as the administration mulls whether to scrap Title 42, a pandemic-era measure that allows officials to expel migrants who attempt to cross the southern border.
“At the very same time that Washington Democrats are pushing for more federal spending on the pandemic, they want to declare the pandemic is finished at our southern border,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Throwing the floodgates open for a historic spring and summer of illegal immigration would be an unforced error of historic proportions.”