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April 7, 2022

Stalled: Why a $10B Covid-19 funding bill is on hold

Daily Briefing

    A $10 billion Covid-19 funding bill is currently stalled in the Senate as some members of the chamber want to add an amendment to extend immigration restrictions enacted in March 2020.

    Our take: 10 health policy topics—including Covid response—to watch in 2022

    Background

    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.

    On Monday, 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."

    Notably, the package does not include the $1 billion in global vaccine aid pushed for by Schumer and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). 

    Bill stalls in Senate

    Currently, the bill is delayed in the Senate as Republicans and a handful of Democrats are looking to add an amendment to the bill that would reverse the Biden administration's action rescinding Title 42, a public health policy enacted by the Trump administration that limited migration at the border and blocked migrants from seeking asylum in March 2020 due to public health concerns. Last week, CDC announced Title 42 would be rescinded on May 23.

    Some Senate Democrats, including Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are in favor of reenacting the policy.

    Title 42 "shouldn't be in place forever, but at the same time we know that the number of migrants will dramatically increase and there's no plan on how to deal with that," Kelly said.

    Warnock noted he has "not seen a plan for how the administration will deal with what [he] think[s] is a pretty predictable surge on the border."

    Manchin said he'd support an amendment preventing the end of Title 42, but added he was displeased the amendment was holding up Covid-19 aid.

    "We should not get rid of [Title] 42. I've always said that," Manchin said. "But still yet, you just don't hold up the package needed to protect Americans too, so I hope they can work through that."

    Schumer said Republicans were using "poison pills" to derail the bipartisan bill.

    "I hope Republicans will get serious about this," Schumer said. "It should not be so difficult to do something so good and important for our country."

    What's next for the bill

    Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the bill is likely going to be delayed until after Congress's upcoming two-week recess to allow party leaders time to negotiate on the procedure to move the bill forward.

    "I assume [negotiations] get restarted on our return or maybe during the break, who knows?" Thune said.

    Thune added he's confident the Title 42 amendment can be added. "We can win it," he said. "They've got a number of Democrats who are for it, but their leadership is adamantly opposed and, I would say, hostile to the idea."

    Romney said underlying support for the bill is still strong. "From what I can tell we have great support for the bill, it will pass, but there needs to be an opportunity for amendments," he said.

    In a press briefing Wednesday, White House ress secretary Jen Psaki emphasized that the United States will run out of its supply of monoclonal antibodies used to treat Covid-19 "as soon as late May" and that capacity for test manufacturing "will begin ramping down at the end of June."

    "The question we have is whether Republicans are acting in good faith to provide the resources we need to save American lives, or if they're just playing politics," Psaki said. "The virus is not waiting for Republicans in Congress to get their act together." (Davis, NPR, 4/6; Fram, Associated Press, 4/7; McPherson/Weiss, Roll Call, 4/6)

    Health policy topics to watch in 2022

    The legislative, regulatory, and judicial outlook for health policy in 2022

    policy

    The Biden administration's first year in office was unsurprisingly dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic. While Democrats in Congress were able to pass part one of President Biden’s infrastructure package, other health care priorities were largely sidelined. As we look to 2022, there are 10 key health care topics that are ripe for congressional or regulatory action. If and how Congress and the Biden administration move on those actions will have strategic implications for industry executives across the health care ecosystem.

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