- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2020

The Trump administration late Monday asked Congress for $2.5 billion to combat the coronavirus from China, underscoring fears the wily pathogen that’s taken root in Italy, Iran and elsewhere could spread within the U.S. and upend public health and the economy in an election year.

More than $1 billion would be used to pursue a vaccine for the virus, while the rest would be used to develop therapeutic drugs and stockpile protective equipment such as masks.

The Health and Human Services Department would like to get the money in a lump sum, so it can spend it as it sees fit, and be able to use it into 2021.

The request would also tap existing accounts to supplement the response to the virus, which causes an illness known as COVID-19 that can lead to respiratory distress and organ failure. The U.S. is home to just 53 cases, though it’s infected 78,000 abroad and killed over 2,000 people.

All told, the White House is seeking $1.25 billion in new funding, a transfer of over $500 million from the Ebola fight in Africa and a series of other transfers that add up to $2.5 billion, total.

“The Trump administration continues to take the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease very seriously,” said Rachel Semmel, spokeswoman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. “Today, the administration is transmitting to Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies.”

“We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities,” she said. “We are grateful for the continued work of our great doctors, responders on the ground, law enforcement, state and local partners and all those working to keep every American safe from the Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Democrats immediately panned the request as belated and lackluster.

The request is reminiscent of President Obama’s demand for over $6 billion to deal with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa during his second term.

It approved over $5 billion instead, though there was funding left over that was tapped to combat the Zika virus, which sparked its own supplemental budget fight in the election year of 2016.

Mr. Trump’s new request calls for repurposing Ebola funds once again, even though there is an active outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Tremendous progress has been made on Ebola and the current national response priority should be COVID-19,” OMB Acting Director Russell T. Vought wrote in his request.

Democrats slammed the request as half-hearted and “too little, too late.” They especially objected to a request to hit up other streams of funding.

“That President Trump is trying to steal funds dedicated to fight Ebola — which is still considered an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — is indicative of his towering incompetence and further proof that he and his administration aren’t taking the coronavirus crisis as seriously as they need to be,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said. “We’ve seen no sign that President Trump has any plan or urgency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus—we need real leadership and we need it fast.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey called the request “woefully insufficient.”

“Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds. It is profoundly disturbing that their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities. Worse still, their overall request still falls short of what is needed for an effective, comprehensive government-wide response,” the New York Democrat said.

She said House Democrats would move ahead on their own to pass a supplemental package that doesn’t tap existing funds.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide