In his State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, President Joe Biden reminded lawmakers that the United States can’t become complacent when it comes to the pandemic and urged Congress to “provide the funds we need.”
As for how many funds are needed, that’s been a moving target. The Democratic administration, as recently as a month ago, sought over $30 billion. Soon after, that total was lowered to $22.5 billion. A week ago, congressional leaders announced they’d agreed to invest $15.6 billion, and the funding would be included in the omnibus spending package.
In theory, the delay could’ve been relatively inconsequential. Lawmakers could’ve simply passed the Covid funding request separately and left the federal response to the crisis unaffected.
In practice, however, it’s a different story. NBC News reported:
Biden administration officials warned that the U.S. will soon run out of funding for future Covid booster shots, new treatments and testing efforts if the spending legislation remains stuck in Congress.... “We want to be clear, waiting to provide funding until we’re in a worse spot with the virus will be too late,” [a senior administration] official said.
The closer one looks at the details, the more unsettling the bigger picture becomes. As The New York Times recently reported, “Faced with Republican resistance after asking for billions of additional dollars to keep fighting the coronavirus, the Biden administration recently supplied Congress with a chart showing how much money it had left for testing, therapeutics and vaccines. It was filled with zeros.”
In practical terms, it means the administration won’t have the resources to buy, among other things, monoclonal antibody treatments. An NPR report added that the White House may also have to soon “start to wind down a Covid-19 program that pays to test, treat and vaccinate people who don’t have health insurance.”
And yet, Senate Republicans — whose support would be needed to get Covid funding past the 60-vote threshold — appear convinced that the funding isn’t really needed.
Sen. Richard Shelby, for example, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, told Politico, “There’s a doubt that they need this money with a lot of us.” The Alabaman added, “I’ve said this for weeks, a real accounting of the money [already spent on Covid] that the American people deserve and then go from there. If there’s no money left, and it’s not hidden somewhere, and if they show a need, then you got, maybe, a persuasive case.”
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Senate’s top Republican in charge of health care spending, added, “I’m for replenishing these accounts. But it’s their job to help make the case as to how much they need and how long it will last. I’d like to have some of those facts, so I could advocate for that amount of money in that amount of time.”
There is no firm deadline, per se. What will happen is that existing programs will simply start fading away as they run out of funds, and investments to deal with future variants simply won’t happen. Watch this space.