WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is heading for “a lot of unnecessary loss of life,” the Biden administration says, if Congress fails to provide billions more dollars to prepare for the next wave of the pandemic. . Yet the quest for that money is in limbo, the latest victim of the election-year stalemate that has stalled or killed a host of Democratic priorities.
LOOK: White House press secretary Jen Psaki says Congress must act quickly to replenish COVID funds
President Joe Biden’s call for funds for vaccines, tests and treatments has met with opposition from Republicans, who have merged the fight with precarious immigration politics. Congress is on recess and next steps are uncertain, despite warnings from White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha of the dire consequences of “every day we wait”.
Administration officials say they are running out of money to stock up or even start ordering the latest vaccines, tests and treatments. Funds are also lacking to reimburse doctors treating uninsured patients and to help poor countries control the pandemic.
House and Senate Democrats have sparred over how to resolve the deadlock and even which chamber should vote first. It’s an open question whether they’ll ever get the GOP votes they need to push the legislation through the Senate 50-50, and the outlook in the tightly divided House is also unclear.
“There is still an urgent need to pass a COVID relief package,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y, said last week. “It’s very, very necessary.”
Optimists hope the metric could start rolling once Congress returns next week. Pessimists say that without a quick resolution, Democrats may not have enough clout to push the money through until early fall. That’s when they could squeeze it into legislation that will likely be needed to fund the government — a bill that would avoid a federal shutdown, a pre-election distraction Republicans will be desperate to avoid.
The pile of marginalized Democratic initiatives has grown this year, victim of GOP opposition and rebellions from centrists like Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va. Victims include bills on voting rights, health care, the environment, taxes, gun restrictions, abortion rights, police tactics and an investigation into the taking of storming of the Capitol in 2021 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
While lawmakers approved massive packages funding federal agencies through September and helping Ukraine stave off Russia’s invasion, other priorities are dead or adrift, even as the days of Democrats on the run head of Congress are likely to decline. Republicans are favored to win control of the House in the November election and could also take the Senate, and Democrats’ frustration is clear.
“So far, that hasn’t budged,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said of Biden’s latest $22.5 billion COVID-19 request, which he initially sent to Congress three months ago. “But neither has reasonable gun laws, nor the right to vote.”
“The 50-50 Senate sucks,” she said.
COVID money is needed quickly, officials say. Their warnings are accompanied by more than one million deaths in the United States from the disease and a new variant that hospitalizes more than 100,000 Americans daily and kills more than 300. Both figures are increasing.
Officials say that, due to a lack of fresh funds, the United States is falling behind other countries that are already lining up for supplies needed for fall and winter. It prompted Jha to plan for the possibility of Congress providing no new money, threatening to make painful choices about what to do if there aren’t enough vaccines or therapeutics for everyone who needs them. need.
“That would be terrible,” Jha recently told reporters. “I think we would see a lot of unnecessary loss of life if that were to happen.”
LOOK: White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr Ashish Jha discusses the growing rise of the virus
Congress has provided $370 billion for supplies, research and other public health initiatives to fight the pandemic, according to administrative tallies obtained by The Associated Press. About $14 billion had not been spent or committed to contracts as of April 5, the documents show, serious money but an amount the administration says falls short of ultimate need.
Most Republicans are skeptical of additional pandemic funding. “I find it hard to believe that there is not enough money and not enough flexibility already” to use it, said Sen. Kevin Cramer, RN.D.
Counterintuitively but unsurprisingly to the still-perplexed Senate, one unsolvable puzzle that has Democrats stuck is immigration.
Senate Republicans are demanding a vote and changing pandemic legislation with language retaining Trump-era restrictions that, citing COVID-19, made it easier to ban entry into the United States.
A federal judge blocked Biden from ending those restrictions. Liberals want Congress to eliminate the crackdown, but moderate Democrats in both houses facing tough re-elections want to vote to keep it.
The result: nerve-wracking divisions between the Democrats’ two ideological factions and thorny questions for party leaders about how to resolve them and push through a pandemic package.
Their task is compounded by disputes between House and Senate Democrats over why the battle against COVID-19 remains unresolved.
Senate Democrats note that a $15.6 billion bipartisan pandemic compromise was poised to pass the House in March until progressive Democrats in that chamber rebelled against spending cuts for pay it, derailing the money. “We’re waiting for the House to send us something,” Schumer said last week.
House Democrats say that even if they do, the biggest hurdle will still be the Senate, where 10 GOP votes will be needed to meet that chamber’s usual 60-vote threshold for passage. They note that an April deal between Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for $10 billion in COVID-19 money fell apart after Republicans demanded the vote on immigration.
“We want COVID-19 to be over, but the only obstacle right now is the United States Senate,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md, told reporters recently.
That leaves Republicans waiting for the next decision from Democrats.
“I imagine at this point more than half of our members will vote against this no matter what. So the question is, what do you do to make this acceptable to 10 or 12 ‘Republican senators’? said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership, “And I don’t know.”