- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan package to provide fresh spending to combat COVID-19 may drop to $10 billion, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday, as the two parties remained deadlocked over how to pay for it.

Negotiators have been trying for weeks to revive a $15.6 billion compromise they had agreed to earlier this month. That fell apart after House Democrats rejected cuts in pandemic aid to states to help pay for it, and the parties remain divided over how to find savings both sides can accept.

“It’s still kind of a work in progress, but as of late last night, it appeared as if that would be skinnying down from 15 to 10,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview with Punchbowl News.

The money would be to purchase vaccines, treatments and tests, which the administration says are running low, even as a more transmissible omicron variant spreads quickly in the U.S. and abroad.

Republicans have demanded that the measure be paid for by pulling back pandemic funds that were approved in earlier pandemic relief measures but not yet spent. Bargainers from both sides have said they remain divided over how to do that.

McConnell said that Democrats “are unwilling to find another $5 billion” in savings from around $100 billion that’s not yet been spent. Democrats have said the cuts Republicans are pushing are unreasonable, such as revisiting the already rejected reductions in state assistance.

McConnell said reducing the bill’s size could mean the one-third of the measure that was to go for vaccines and treatments overseas would be dropped, “which I think is terribly unfortunate.”

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have been pushing to try reaching a deal before Congress leaves town for a recess after next week.

Asked if he thought an agreement could be reached before lawmakers’ recess, McConnell said, “We’ll see. Hope so.”

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