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Senate reaches deal on $10 billion in COVID-19 spending

Agreement does not include international aid

Rep. Tom Malinowski says the supplemental bill could have trouble passing the House without foreign assistance funds.
Rep. Tom Malinowski says the supplemental bill could have trouble passing the House without foreign assistance funds. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate negotiators on Monday released text of their deal to provide $10 billion in supplemental funding to the Department of Health and Human Services for the government’s ongoing COVID-19 response.

The package, which unlike an earlier agreement does not include any international aid, is fully offset by repurposing $10 billion in unspent funds from prior pandemic relief laws.

The deal crystallizes an informal “agreement in principle” the parties reached last week on the $10 billion in overall spending and offsets.

Senators left town last week undecided on whether to use $1 billion of the $10 billion for international aid to help increase the global vaccination rate or to spend it all on domestic needs. The final deal would give all $10 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for domestic needs like buying additional therapeutics, testing supplies and vaccines.

The bill specifies that half of the funding be used for therapeutics, whether purchasing existing therapies or researching, developing and producing new ones.

The measure also would earmark $750 million for research on vaccines for emerging coronavirus variants, including clinical trials, and expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity.

The agreement falls short of an initial $15.6 billion leaders agreed to in negotiations over the fiscal 2022 omnibus. That agreement fell apart after a group of rank-and-file House Democrats objected to one of the offsets, $7 billion that would have been pulled from aid promised to states.

Offsets

Democrats and Republicans could not agree on enough offsets to keep the spending total at $15.6 billion, which was already short of the $22.5 billion the White House requested.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement urging Congress to “move promptly” on the $10 billion supplemental but noted the administration would continue to press Congress for more domestic funding, as well as the foreign aid that was left out of the package.

While Congress has previously approved pandemic funding as emergency spending, Republicans demanded offsets this time around.

The negotiators agreed to exactly $10 billion in offsets by tapping unspent funds from prior pandemic aid laws. The measure would claw back the following unused appropriations:

  • $2.3 billion from a program intended to keep aviation manufacturing workers on payroll.
  • $1.9 billion each from unused grans for shuttered live entertainment venues and a state small business credit program.
  • $1.6 billion for Agriculture Department aid to commodity producers, food banks and others.
  • $900 million for the Small Business Administration’s econoic injury disaster loan program.
  • $887 million from local and tribal assistance funds, with the addition of flexibility for state, localities and tribes to use existing funds for infrastucture-related spending, based on a Senate-passed bill from John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
  • $500 million from aid to colleges and universities.

“Importantly, this bill is comprised of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of the lead GOP negotiators, said in a statement announcing the deal.

In another nod to Republicans, who have routinely complained about the administration not providing enough information about how it has been spending pandemic funds Congress appropriated, the package includes a number of oversight provisions.

HHS would have to notify the Appropriations Committees at least two days before making an obligation costing over $50 million, as well as monthly notifications of obligations over $20 million. The monthly reports are also required to include the current inventory of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as the amount of those distributed to states or other jurisdictions.

The bill includes other reporting requirements that would ensure the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee get regular updates about pandemic supplies as well.

Also tucked into the measure is $174,000 for Ann Garland Young, the wife of the late Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young, which is the typical bereavement payment provided to congressional spouses.

No international aid

The original $15.6 billion agreement congressional leaders unsuccessfully tried to put in the omnibus included $5 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development to send COVID-19 supplies internationally. While most of the foreign assistance funding was slated to provide vaccines to other countries to help increase global vaccination rates, it also included funding to help vulnerable populations with supplies needed to fight the virus, including therapeutics, personal protective equipment, oxygen, food and clean water.

The decision not to include any international aid will undoubtedly anger some Democrats, with some already raising complaints soon after the deal was announced.

“It makes no sense to fund COVID preparedness in the United States and ignore the need for global vaccinations,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said. “This virus has already proven time and again that it can mutate in one country and then move to every other nation in the world. Our best shot at protecting our people here at home is to help other countries get their people vaccinated.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, issued a statement saying he will vote for the bill because the domestic funds are urgently needed. But he called the decision to not include any international aid “short-sighted” and a “grave mistake” and said he plans to push his colleagues to pass “a robust international funding bill” in the coming weeks.

The lack of foreign aid and could also cause problems for passing the supplemental bill in the House.

“I don’t think it could pass the House without any international funding,” Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said in an interview Friday. “That’s not a decision not to increase our international efforts. That’s a decision to shut down our international efforts because USAID is out of money. We are already not doing our fair share internationally based on our size and income.”

Senators are expected to attach the COVID-19 funding after stripping the contents of the underlying shell vehicle, a leftover State-Foreign Operations spending bill that the House passed last year before it became moot in fiscal 2022 omnibus negotiations.

The chamber has a full plate this week with a Supreme Court confirmation debate as well as other pending business.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Democratic leaders would try to negotiate an amendment package in hopes of getting all 100 senators to consent to a time agreement to bring the bill up for a vote this week. But he doesn’t see enough Republicans getting on board that quickly.

“I were a betting man, I would say they probably wouldn’t,” he said.

Among the amendments Republicans would be seeking is an effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s move to rescind the Trump-era immigration directive known as Title 42, which allowed border agents to turn back migrants who crossed the border without considering their asylum claims.

There’s also a push on both sides of the Capitol to attach an aid package for restaurants and other consumer-facing industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as hotels, gyms and theaters.

The House is scheduled to take up a $55 billion package of business aid later this week, though there’s a bipartisan effort in the Senate to secure a vote on a similar package as an amendment to the supplemental.

Aidan Quigley, Paul M. Krawzak, Laura Weiss and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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