Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer delayed a procedural vote Thursday on billions in new COVID-19 spending, saying bipartisan negotiators needed time to settle on a final price tag.
President Biden has been begging for $22 billion more in taxpayer dollars to sustain the fight against the virus.
Mr. Schumer said bipartisan negotiations were proceeding to the finish line but signaled the final number could end up below $15 billion, as Democrats scrambled to gather the 60 votes needed to proceed with legislation in the 100-member chamber that is split 50-50 between the parties.
“We are getting close to a final agreement that would garner bipartisan support,” said Mr. Schumer, who toggled between praising Republicans for working in good faith and warning them about the perils of further delay.
Lawmakers are seeking a standalone deal after attempts to add virus funds to a broader spending bill failed. House Democrats balked at repurposing state and local dollars.
Republicans said the White House is sitting on other funds it could use, prompting a flurry of negotiations that could downsize the new package closer to $10 billion.
The emerging deal would aim to satisfy domestic needs for treatments, testing and vaccines while cutting out a portion of global funding devoted to vaccinating the rest of the world, according to a report in The Hill, prompting a rebuke from Democrats who say the virus will boomerang back on Americans.
“This is not enough money, we’re going to need even more money,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This is shameful, we have to get the money. It’s a problem, it’s a shame.”
Mr. Biden outlined the potential consequences of running out of virus funds on Wednesday. He said the government is cutting back purchases of monoclonal antibody treatments and won’t be able to mass-purchase booster shots if needed.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday said a federal relief fund is running out of money that supports vaccinations, testing and other services at medical centers and community health centers.
“What we’re asking for now is to finish the fight on COVID-19,” Mr. Becerra told House lawmakers at a hearing. “We are running out of the money in that provider-relief fund to reimburse claims submitted by all those different types of doctors, hospitals and so forth.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said she is worried about the fallout both at home and abroad if they don’t spend enough.
“I think there are serious consequences if we cut off support for low-income countries,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “I believe that that is going to hurt us at home if we cannot stop COVID across the world.”
Rep. Tom Cole, the committee’s senior Republican, told Mr. Becerra the administration should redirect any money left from last year’s coronavirus relief package, especially since much of the cash was directed to non-virus purposes. But he agreed that time is of the essence.
“I don’t want to get behind the eight ball here but I also don’t want to just say it’s OK to send money out willy-nilly to states that are supposed to be for COVID and it’s not being used that way in many areas,” Mr. Cole, of Oklahoma, said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he finds it frustrating that Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies are begging for funds to maintain the pandemic fight as the administration mulls whether to scrap Title 42, a pandemic-era measure that allows officials to expel migrants who attempt to cross the southern border.
“At the very same time that Washington Democrats are pushing for more federal spending on the pandemic, they want to declare the pandemic is finished at our southern border,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Throwing the floodgates open for a historic spring and summer of illegal immigration would be an unforced error of historic proportions.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.