WASHINGTON — Senate bargainers reached agreement Monday on a slimmed-down $10 billion package for countering COVID-19 with treatments, vaccines and other steps, the top Democratic and Republican negotiators said, but the measure dropped all funding to help nations abroad combat the pandemic.
The compromise drew quick support from President Joe Biden, who initially pushed for a $22.5 billion package. In a setback, he ended up settling for much less amid administration warnings that the government was running out of money to keep pace with the disease’s continued — though diminished — spread in the U.S.
“Every dollar we requested is essential and we will continue to work with Congress to get all of the funding we need,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “But time is of the essence. We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs.”
Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., his party’s lead bargainer, also ended up agreeing to abandon Biden’s request to include $5 billion to help countries — especially poorer ones — where the disease is still running rampant. But the two sides could not agree on enough budget savings to pay for the larger amounts.
Schumer said the pact would provide “the tools we need” to help the country recover from the economic and public health blows that COVID-19 has inflicted for the past two years.
But he said while the $10 billion “is absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep up safe” over time.
He said members of both parties want to craft a second spending measure this spring that could include funds to battle COVID-19 and hunger overseas and more assistance for Ukraine as it continues battling the Russian invasion. The fate of such a measure is uncertain.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lead GOP bargainer, hailed the accord as one that would address “urgent COVID needs.” He also trumpeted the measure’s savings, which he said meant it “will not cost the American people a single additional dollar.”
Romney also suggested an openness to considering future money. “While this agreement does not include funding for the U.S. global vaccination program, I am willing to explore a fiscally responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead,” he said.
The agreement comes with party leaders hoping to move the legislation through Congress this week, before lawmakers leave for a two-week spring recess. It also comes with BA.2, the new omicron variant, expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. cases. Around 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19.
At least half the compromise would have to be used to research and produce therapeutics to treat the disease, according to fact sheets from Schumer and Romney.
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The money would also be used to buy vaccines and tests. At least $750 million would be used to research new COVID-19 variants and to expand vaccine production, the descriptions said.
The deal is also a reduction from a $15 billion version that both parties’ leaders had negotiated last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., abandoned that plan after Democratic lawmakers rejected proposed cuts in state pandemic aid to help pay for the package.
Some people said the fate of the new agreement remained uncertain in the House, where Pelosi and liberal Democrats have expressed opposition to dropping the money for helping other countries.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, leader of the House Progressive Caucus, said it is “a big problem” to erase the global assistance from the package.
“It’s really shortsighted to not spend money on making sure this virus is contained around the world,” Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat who worked in global public health for a decade, told reporters.
The agreement will need to attract at least 10 GOP votes to move through the 50-50 Senate. The others said the needed Republican votes would be there.
The measure is fully paid for by pulling back unspent funds from previous pandemic relief bills that have been enacted, bargainers have said.
Romney’s fact sheet says those savings include $2.3 billion from a fund protecting aviation manufacturing jobs; $1.9 billion from money for helping entertainment venues shuttered by the pandemic; another $1.9 billion from a program that helps states extend credit to small businesses; and $1.6 billion from agriculture assistance programs.
By Associated Press Writer Alam Fram. AP writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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More coronavirus coverage
OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious COVID-19 variant affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantining.
KIDS AND VACCINES: Got questions about vaccinating your kid? Here are some answers.
BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.
BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here’s the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.
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