As America nears 1 million confirmed Covid-19 deaths and a new subvariant becomes the dominant strain in the US, Congress remains indifferent to the public health catastrophe. Our elected officials have drained the government of billions of dollars in funding for pandemic relief, with the uninsured already losing access to free coronavirus testing and treatment, and next week to free vaccines. Congress isn’t just hesitating either—it’s actively cutting the funding package.
Senators who were negotiating the financing of Covid, last week neared a compromise that would halve the request of the White House. The Biden administration initially asked Congress for $22.5 billion to fund the Covid response, including vaccines, treatments and testing for the uninsured. On March 1, during his State of the Union address, Biden said he expected Congress to “get it passed quickly.” A few weeks later, congressional Democrats slashed the amount to $15.6 billion, eventually removing Covid funds from a $1.5 trillion mandatory spending bill after facing opposition from rank and file members.
Party leaders had yielded to Republican demands that Congress pay for the Covid funds using states’ leftover funds from previous pandemic relief packages, which dozens of members, as well as some governors, found unacceptable. “It is heartbreaking to see Covid funding removed and we must continue to fight for much needed Covid relief, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” Pelosi wrote to Democrats.
At the same time that Covid cash was being removed from the draft budget, lawmakers had no trouble finding billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. About half of the 13.6 billion US dollars emergency aid, which approved the Congress, flowed in weapons and supporting the use of additional troops and materials in the region. In this case, there were no debates over pay, no back-and-forth over top-line number, and no compromises on military aid. This week, Biden increased pressure on Congress to hand over Covid funding, using a speech on the state of the pandemic to reiterate his demands, saying that “we are already seeing the consequences of Congress’ inaction” and that we “make ourselves vulnerable”. when another wave comes
“Congress, please act. You need to act now,” Biden said. “The consequences of inaction are grave. They will only grow over time, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The Health Resources and Services Administration’s Covid-19 program for the uninsured stopped Assumption of reimbursement claims from clinics and hospitals “due to insufficient funds”. And the Biden administration says it doesn’t have enough money to sustain its testing capacity beyond June. Americans are also expected to eventually receive a second booster shot. If there are new variants or fluctuations, the poor will continue to bear the brunt of the crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week that he is “trying to reach an agreement” with Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who is negotiating on behalf of Republicans over pandemic assistance and payment. Democrats need 10 Republicans to break a Senate filibuster and win house funding. The package will carved further down, from $15 billion to $10 billion. Global coronavirus funding, designed to boost vaccination efforts abroad, was the first thing to go. But the negotiations are still in flux. Senate Democrats are trying to salvage $1 billion for global aid, and some in the House are even threatening to withhold their support if global vaccine funds don’t make it into the package.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said he hopes the chamber will vote on a bill next week. “I don’t want to go home for a week’s break late next week without first having Covid-19 dollars needed to save lives,” Hoyer said. Not everyone in Congress shares the sense of urgency, especially now that many states have dropped their pandemic mandates. In the Senate, the minority whips up John Thunes viewDemocrats “create a crisis and urgency around it, and I don’t think our guys see it that way.”