Senate Republicans and Democrats reached a deal Monday on $10 billion in additional Covid funding to buy therapeutics and vaccines and maintain the nation’s testing capacity if another Covid wave hits the U.S.
The legislation earmarks at least $5 billion to purchase and develop Covid treatments such as antiviral pills. Another $750 million is set aside to develop vaccines that target specific variants and to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity in the U.S. if needed.
The funding is less than half the $22.5 billion that President Joe Biden first requested. The deal does not include money to support the administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations around the world.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said every dollar the administration requested is essential, and noted that the White House will work to get Congress to pass more aid. However, Psaki said time is of the essence, and urged lawmakers to swiftly pass the $10 billion.
“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.
Congress has fumbled Covid funding as the White House warned that the U.S. would not have enough money to ensure all Americans have access to vaccines in the fall without new aid. House Democrats originally sought to pass $15 billion in Covid funding last month, but Republicans insisted on redirecting money already appropriated for state and local governments to cover any new spending. Negotiations moved to the Senate after the House failed to reach a bipartisan agreement.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the $10 billion is fully paid for by repurposing unspent Covid funds from the Agriculture, Education, Treasury and Transportation Departments as well as the Small Business Administration.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was disappointed the legislation does not include money to support the Biden administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations around the world. Schumer said the initiative is crucial to prevent the emergence of a breakthrough Covid variant that can evade the protection provided by the current shots.
Schumer and Romney said they were willing to work together on a supplemental international Covid aid package later this spring.