Senate negotiators on Monday reached a deal on $10 billion in Covid-19 funding—however the agreement does not include any global Covid-19 aid, making the bill's prospects of passing the House unclear.
Our take: 10 health policy topics—including Covid response—to watch in 2022
In March, Democrats and Republicans in the House agreed to provide $15.6 billion in funding for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments as part of a larger $1.5 trillion omnibus bill.
However, House Republicans argued the Covid-19 funding would need to be offset by tapping into $7.1 billion in coronavirus relief funds that have yet to be distributed to 30 states. This led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to cut the Covid-19 funds from the omnibus bill so the issue could be debated and passed separately.
Senate Republicans have argued they need an accounting of how coronavirus relief funds have been spent by states before additional funds are allocated.
A report from the Associated Press found that a number of projects were paid for by pandemic relief funds, despite having little to do with the pandemic, including $140 million for a high-end hotel in Broward County, Florida, $400 million to build new prison facilities in Alabama, and $12 million for the renovation of a minor league baseball stadium in Dutchess County, New York.
"The basic thing we ought to figure out is, is there a need?" Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. "Secondly, if there's a need, where's all the money we appropriated?"
Senate reaches deal on $10B in Covid-19 aid
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced that negotiators in the Senate had reached a deal that would provide $10 billion in Covid-19 aid. The agreement would allow the United States to purchase more therapeutics, Covid-19 tests, vaccines, and more.
The bill calls for the investment of at least $5 billion to develop and purchase more therapeutics, as well as at least $750 million towards combating future coronavirus variants and increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity.
According to Romney, the bill will redirect $10 billion in unspent American Rescue Plan funds for "urgent Covid needs and therapeutics."
"Importantly, this bill is comprised of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar," Romney said.
Notably, the package does not include the $1 billion in global vaccine aid pushed for by Schumer and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). According to sources who spoke to Politico, negotiators weren't able to agree on how that aid would be paid for.
"While this emergency injection of additional funding is absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep us safe," Schumer said. "Nonetheless, President [Joe] Biden supports this package and has asked the Senate and House to act quickly."
Romney added that he is "willing to explore a fiscally responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead," and Schumer said he intends the Senate "to consider a bipartisan international appropriations package that could include … funding to address Covid-19[.]"
What's next for the bill
Congress is set to begin a two-week recess soon, meaning the Senate and House will need to act quickly to approve the funding. According to Politico, it's possible that if the bill quickly passes the Senate and House, it could be signed by Biden this week.
However, the bill's future is unclear. In order for the Senate to pass the bill before Congress leaves for recess, the Senate will need cooperation from all 100 senators.
In addition, according to The Hill, Republican senators may be looking to add an amendment to the bill that would reverse the Biden administration's action rescinding Title 42, a policy enacted by the Trump administration that limited migration at the border and blocked migrants from seeking asylum.
"It seems like there's kind of critical mass behind that idea," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "How the Democrats want to handle that issue may have some bearing on how and when the Covid bill proceeds."
The bill also faces an uncertain future in the House, as multiple Democrats in the chamber have been critical of the agreement's exclusion of funding for global Covid-19 aid.
"We're faced with a complete shutdown of international effort," said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). "We're the United States of America. We're supposed to be funding at least 25% of the global effort. That's just our fair share."
"I don't think it could pass the House without any international funding," he added.
However, Democratic leaders in the House said they're willing to accept what the Senate can give them for now. While it's short of what President Biden requested, "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," said Pelosi.
"If that's all the Senate can do right now—which I regret deeply—I think we need to pass that and we need to pass it as soon as possible," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). When asked if he believes Democrats could get the votes in the House to pass the bill, Hoyer said, "I think ultimately the answer to that is yes." (Everett et al., Politico, 4/4; Carney, The Hill, 4/4; Diamond/Roubein, Washington Post, 4/4; Rouan/Quarshie, USA Today, 4/4; Fram/Amiri, Associated Press, 4/5; McPherson, Roll Call, 4/4; Sullivan/Carney, The Hill, 4/4)