The White House said Tuesday it wants Congress to pass a $10 billion deal for domestic COVID-19 needs “immediately” and warned lawmakers not to tie the funding bill to the administration’s decision to lift a pandemic-era rule that blocked many illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.
Republican leaders might push for an amendment to the virus deal that targets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s plans to lift Title 42 on May 23, according to The Hill.
Some centrist Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, are concerned that lifting the border policy will result in a migrant surge ahead of the mid-term contests.
White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients said he’d rather not see the virus funding entangled in the CDC’s decision on the border.
“It should remain independent of the urgently needed funding that we talked about today to sustain our COVID-19 response here domestically and our global response,” he said. “This should not be included on any funding bill. The decision should be made by the CDC, which it has been and that’s where it belongs.”
Mr. Zients said the bipartisan virus package needs to pass this week but he scolded lawmakers for leaving out $5 billion in requested global aid.
He said the U.S. had positioned itself as a leader in the global vaccination effort, and the lack of funding will make it harder to stiff-arm new strains that could boomerang back on the U.S.
“It is a real disappointment that there is no global funding in this bill,” Mr. Zients said. “This virus knows no borders and it’s in our national interest to vaccinate the world to protect against possible new variants.”
Bipartisan negotiators struck the Senate deal late Monday after days of wrangling over funding offsets. Republican negotiators said they could not approve new spending after the U.S. lavished $6 trillion on pandemic relief.
The $10 billion deal is less than half the amount that President Biden demanded last month. The deal also faces an uncertain path in the House, where some Democrats signaled they would reject a package that doesn’t include global funding.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress should pass the deal immediately and then “continue fighting for more funding to vaccinate the world.”
Mr. Biden said he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk, underscoring his desperation to refill coffers that will pay for testing, treatments and booster doses later this year.
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“We urge Congress to move promptly on the $10 billion,” Mr. Zients said. “The bill is a start, it should pass immediately, but it’s exactly that — just a start.”
Mr. Zients declined to say which domestic needs would be on the chopping block, given that Mr. Biden sought $22.5 billion. The coordinator said the Department of Health and Human Services will take what it can get and determine its most urgent needs before asking lawmakers for additional funds.
“We need Congress to pass the $10 billion and then get immediately back to work,” Mr. Zients said.
The administration says it has enough money for the additional booster shots that Food and Drug Administration regulators authorized for persons over 50. However, officials said they need new funding to secure booster doses for the general population later this year, assuming regulators decide they are necessary.
A panel of FDA advisers is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the way forward on boosters and whether a variant-specific booster will be needed, or if the U.S. should stick with the vaccines that appear to be holding up against severe outcomes from known strains.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.