Senate Democrats and Republicans have moved closer to a deal to cut an emergency coronavirus response program from $15.6 billion to $10 billion as they work to break a standoff over a stalled package of federal money urgently requested by President Biden for vaccines, therapies and preparedness against future variants.
The day after Mr Biden pleaded with Congress to approve the money, senators were discussing cutting up to $5 billion in aid for the global vaccine effort on Thursday as they spar were trying to resolve disputes over how to fund the package. Republicans have refused to commit new funds to the federal pandemic response effort, arguing that unspent money that has already been approved should be used, but the two sides have been unable to agree. hear about the programs to exploit.
Without that consensus, it was unclear whether they would have the votes to advance to the equally divided Senate, where 60 votes — including at least 10 Republicans — would be needed.
The package currently under consideration would be less than half of the White House’s original $22.5 billion request.
At a press conference, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said the president had been clear about the urgent need for help, adding that “we’re hopeful Congress will come to a solution.” “.
Asked about the possibility that funding for global efforts could be cut, she avoided saying Mr Biden would oppose a package without that aid. But, Ms Bedingfield noted, “We cannot put this pandemic behind us until we stop the spread and proliferation of new variants around the world.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, said any vote would likely be delayed until next week before Congress leaves for a two-week break in April as lawmakers scramble to hammer out a deal , draft the bill and get a cost estimate from the nonpartisan. Congressional Budget Office. He and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Majority Leader, held talks, along with other senior senators.
Under the emerging deal, Romney said, most of the $10 billion would be reallocated from the $1.9 trillion pandemic law that Democrats forced through without Republican support last March. But direct funds for state and local governments would likely not be affected, after Democrats balked at getting that money back. Romney said negotiators discussed taking over some funding for a program that allowed states to provide grants to local businesses.
Other potential funding sources, several senators said, included funds for transportation, agricultural programs and money for performance venues, like theaters, that had to close during the pandemic.
“I’ve generally tried not to let the perfect be the enemy of the best,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota. “But again, we don’t have enough specific flesh on the bone.”
Efforts to squeeze the aid into a $1.5 trillion spending package that Mr Biden signed into law earlier this month crumbled when Democrats and grassroots governors argued against demanding $7 billion that was supposed to go to state governments to help fund the package. Mr. Biden warned that without another round of congressional help, his administration would be forced to scale back the country’s pandemic response, jeopardizing its ability to prepare for another variant or wave of infections.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, said it was still unclear whether a deal would be possible.
“It’s kind of a work in progress,” Mr McConnell said at an event with Punchbowl News, saying the package would likely have been “cut down” to $10 billion.
“It has the potential to remove the international part of vaccines, which I think is terribly unfortunate,” he added. “But that’s where we are at the moment – it’s not clear if it’s going to fully materialize.”
Mr Romney said it was unclear if any of the global aid would remain in the package. Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and one of the negotiators, told reporters “my hope is that we will find a way to add more for the international side.”
But leaders from both parties have expressed optimism that a final deal can be reached.
“The gap has narrowed significantly, and we intend to work with Republicans to get to the finish line, because it’s vital to our country,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, leader of the majority.
But it also remained unclear whether House progressives would accept a deal that was a fraction of what Mr. Biden had initially said was needed and lacked global funds for vaccinations.
“It’s shameful – we have to get the money,” President Nancy Pelosi of California said at her weekly press conference. She added: “Everyone knows that none of us are safe until we are all safe.”
Several House Democrats, including Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, suggested they wouldn’t support a package that didn’t benefit from international aid. Vaccination rates continue to lag in low income countries while they are much higher in high and upper middle income countries.
Catherine Edmondson and Michael D. Shear contributed report.