AP

Democratic, GOP Senate bargainers reach $10B COVID agreement

Apr 5, 2022, 7:49 AM | Updated: Apr 6, 2022, 2:33 pm
Sen. Mitt Romney...
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was among the state leaders who responded Wednesday to a plan by President Biden to forgive certain student loan debt. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate bargainers have reached an agreement on a slimmed-down $10 billion package for countering COVID-19 with treatments, vaccines and other steps, the top Democratic and Republican negotiators said, but ended up dropping all funding to help nations abroad combat the pandemic.

The compromise drew quick support Monday from President Joe Biden, who initially pushed for a $22.5 billion package. In a setback, he ended up settling for much less despite administration warnings that the government was running out of money to keep pace with the disease’s continued — though diminished — spread in the U.S.

“Every dollar we requested is essential and we will continue to work with Congress to get all of the funding we need,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “But time is of the essence. We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs.”

Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., his party’s lead bargainer, abandoned Biden’s request to include $5 billion to help countries — especially poorer ones — where the disease is still running rampant.

The inability of President Biden and top Democrats to protect the additional spending they wanted came after the two parties gridlocked over GOP demands to pay for it by pulling back unspent aid from earlier pandemic measures. It also reflected the diminished political force that battling COVID-19 has this election year, two years into a pandemic that began with bipartisan support for throwing trillions of dollars at it.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lead GOP bargainer, hailed the accord as one that would address “urgent COVID needs.” He also trumpeted the measure’s savings, which he said meant it “will not cost the American people a single additional dollar.”

Still uncertain Monday was whether objections by some Republicans might prevent the Senate from considering the bill this week, as Biden wants, before Congress begins a two-week spring recess. It was also not yet certain there would be the minimum 10 GOP votes needed for passage in the 50-50 chamber.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and many liberals have criticized the ejection of global assistance. But leaders signaled they were ready to accept compromise.

While short of Biden’s agreement full request, “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,” Pelosi set an a statement released overnight.

Schumer said the agreement would provide “the tools we need” to help the country recover from the economic and public health blows that COVID-19 has inflicted. But he said while the $10 billion “is absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep up safe” over time.

He said members of both parties want to craft a second spending measure this spring that could include funds to battle COVID-19 and hunger overseas and more assistance for Ukraine as it continues battling the Russian invasion. The fate of such a measure is uncertain.

Romney also suggested an openness to considering future money. “While this agreement does not include funding for the U.S. global vaccination program, I am willing to explore a fiscally responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead,” he said.

The agreement comes with BA.2, the new omicron variant, expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. cases. Around 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19.

At least half the agreement’s $10 billion would be used to research and produce therapeutics to treat the disease, according to fact sheets from Schumer and Romney.

The money would also be used to buy vaccines and tests. At least $750 million would be used to research new COVID-19 variants and to expand vaccine production, the descriptions said.

Administration officials have said the government has run out of money to finance COVID-19 testing and treatments for people without insurance. They’ve also said funds are running low for boosters, vaccines focused on specific variants, free monoclonal antibody treatments and care for people with immune system weaknesses.

The deal is also a reduction from a $15 billion version that both parties’ leaders negotiated last month. Pelosi abandoned that plan after Democratic lawmakers rejected proposed cuts in state pandemic aid to help pay for the package.

Democrats from both chambers complained about the eliminated global spending.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., leader of the House Progressive Caucus, said it is “a big problem” to erase the international assistance and “not spend money on making sure this virus is contained around the world.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a leading foreign policy voice, said he would back the bill but called it a “grave mistake” to not help other countries’ efforts. He called it “fiscally foolish” to not send tens of millions of unused U.S. vaccines abroad to the 2.8 billion unvaccinated people worldwide.

The measure is fully paid for by pulling back unspent funds from previous pandemic relief bills that have been enacted, bargainers said.

Romney’s fact sheet says that includes $2.3 billion from a fund protecting aviation manufacturing jobs; $1.9 billion from money for helping entertainment venues shuttered by the pandemic; another $1.9 billion from a program that helps states extend credit to small businesses; and $1.6 billion from agriculture assistance programs.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
5 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
7 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
8 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
9 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
9 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Democratic, GOP Senate bargainers reach $10B COVID agreement