Senate Agrees To $10 Billion In Extra COVID $$$, After GOP A Bunch Of Dicks About It
Image: MaxPixel, Creative Commons license 1.0

The US Senate agreed yesterday on a $10 billion plan to fund coronavirus treatments, vaccinations, and vaccine research, heading off the possibility that the US might have to cut back on ongoing treatment and free vaccines in the next few months. The funding will also cover additional testing capacity in case a new wave of infections arrives.

The White House has been warning that a cutoff of COVID funding could be catastrophic for programs that have provided COVID vaccinations and treatment to Americans at no cost. Without the additional funds, the government would have had to stop reimbursing providers for testing and treatment, retroactive to March 22, and would have been unable to reimburse for vaccines starting today.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday that the White House will keep pushing Congress for additional funding, because the US and the world need every dollar of President Joe Biden's original $22.5 billion request, especially to help people get the second booster shots that were approved last week. But, yes, for Crom's sake, pass this deal now to make sure existing programs continue. Deals are good!

“We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs, as we currently run the risk of not having some critical tools like treatments and tests starting in May and June,” Psaki said.

The funding deal, negotiated by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), is a bit less than half the $22.5 billion the White House had requested, and doesn't include any funding for one of President Joe Biden's top priorities, increased vaccinations in developing countries.

The package will include $5 billion to buy and develop COVID treatments like antiviral pills, as well as for those monoclonal antibody treatments that are effective against the Omicron variant. Another $750 million would go to developing new vaccines that can fight off a variety of variants, and also to ramp up vaccine manufacturing capacity.

Romney said the bill will be fully funded by reshuffling unspent COVID and stimulus funding that had gone to several federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration and the departments of Agriculture, Education, Transportation, and Treasury. He and the other Republican negotiators called attention to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that Romney declared shows the bill “will not cost the American people a single additional dollar," at least in the initial outlay.

The deal emerged after Democrats had been unable to get any Republican support for a $15 billion proposal that would have included $5 billion for international COVID aid. The Washington Post reports that

an earlier “agreement in principle” touted by Romney last Thursday would have included about $1 billion in global aid. But lawmakers were unable to agree on how to pay for that aid, said the people familiar with the deal.

Public health experts warned that the lack of funding for global vaccinations could come back to bite the US in its fiscally responsible ass, however. Zain Rizvi, research director at Public Citizen, told the Post that

Penny-pinching in a pandemic will have devastating consequences for vaccinating the world, for reducing the risk of variants, for all of us. … Abandoning the global covid response will put American lives at risk.

President Biden has also repeatedly made that point, saying in a speech last week that getting the world vaccinated is "critical to our ability to protect against new variants. There’s no wall that you can build high enough to keep out a virus."

The Senate should at least be able to get the current package of domestic COVID spending passed this week, after which it will go to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi already said it should be passed quickly, noting that "While this agreement does not meet the Administration's full request, this package will fulfill immediate needs to secure more vaccines, boosters, testing and therapeutics to keep the pandemic at bay — and it must be enacted as quickly as possible."

Schumer also said in a statement that he believes a second spending bill including international aid can be passed with bipartisan support, particularly if it's part of a package for other urgent international needs such as "aid for Ukraine as well as funding to address COVID-19 and food insecurity globally."

Well yes, let's do that, and quickly, please.

[WaPo / CNBC / Reuters / Image: MaxPixel, Creative Commons license 1.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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