US Congress in new push to fund pandemic response

US Congress in new push to fund pandemic response
FILE

Agency Report

US lawmakers scrambled Wednesday to cut a deal on more Covid-19 funding ahead of a speech from President Joe Biden in which he is expected warn that progress in combating the pandemic is under threat.

The administration has been ramping up its warnings in recent weeks that money is running out for crucial elements of the federal response -- including vaccination, testing and providing therapeutic medicines.

Mitt Romney, the chief Covid negotiator for the Republicans in the US Senate, has been meeting with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to thrash out the contours of a multi-billion-dollar tranche of new funding.

"If a new Covid variant extends its nasty tentacles across the country and we don't have the tools to respond, then woe is us," Schumer warned colleagues on the Senate floor.

"We don't want to see that -- Americans don't want to endure that -- so let's keep working to try and reach an agreement soon."

Romney, a former presidential nominee, is demanding that the cash be fully offset with savings elsewhere.

He also wants a full accounting of the cash already allocated, so that the White House can repurpose unspent funds.

Schumer has been urging Romney to get other Republicans on board with a fully paid-for proposal in the $15 billion range, with 10 required to get any deal past the evenly divided Senate.

"I have one Republican in support right now -- it's me," Romney, who represents Utah, told CNN on Tuesday.

The $15 billion being considered is the amount the two parties agreed to as part of a full-year spending package that Biden signed into law recently.

The money was stripped out by Speaker Nancy Pelosi after her own rank-and-file Democrats balked at the proposed offsets, which involved taking money back from certain states.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives -- the lower chamber of Congress -- have voiced hope that lawmakers can pass a package before leaving town for Easter at the end of next week.

Covid-19 has crept closer and closer to the president in recent days, disrupting White House operations as the country has been relaxing strict pandemic curbs.

Administration figures returning positive tests recently include Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, press secretary Jen Psaki and her deputy Karine Jean-Pierre.

The infections have complicated White House efforts to signal that the country has turned the corner on the pandemic.

Biden is expected to announce the rollout Wednesday of COVID.gov, a new website aimed at helping Americans locate and access vaccines, tests, treatments and masks.

AFP

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