Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is requesting $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus.
Schumer unveiled the details of his funding request, which he also sent to the Appropriations Committee, arguing that Congress “must act swiftly” to confront the virus.
“This proposal brings desperately-needed resources to the global fight against coronavirus. Americans need to know that their government is prepared to handle the situation before coronavirus spreads to our communities. I urge the Congress to move quickly on this proposal. Time is of the essence,” Schumer said in a statement on Wednesday.
The spending request is more than three times the $2.5 billion requested by the Trump administration. Trump’s request included $1.25 billion in new funding, with the rest to be taken from existing health programs, including $535 million from fighting Ebola.
A senior administration official said the $2.5 billion request “was developed based on current and expected expenditures and input from our public health experts.”
“We will work closely with Congress and hope a supplemental appropriations bill is enacted in a timely basis,” the official added.
Schumer’s request would be comprised entirely of new funding, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.
That funding would include
$1.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $3 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund and $2 billion that would reimburse states and local governments for money they spend related to the coronavirus.
It also would include $1 billion for vaccine development at the National Institutes of Health and $1 billion for an emergency reserve fund under the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Lawmakers have bristled over the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has said he will offer a “higher” spending bill, but has not offered a specific figure.
“It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can’t afford to do that,” Shelby told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a hearing on the agency’s budget request.
Schumer’s office noted that Congress previously appropriated more than $6 billion for the pandemic flu in 2006 and $7 billion for the “swine flu,” also known as H1N1, in 2009.
When the Senate could take up a supplemental spending bill is unclear.
“If there’s a sense that we need to get resources out there to help combat it, probably, yeah. Like I said, I think it’s going to get done in a fairly timely way,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, in response to a question about whether it could pass before the mid-March recess.
House Democrats didn’t directly shoot down Schumer’s funding figure but signaled that it was premature as lawmakers try to gather more information.
“Given that we have received virtually no information from the Trump administration, we are still assessing what amount of funding is needed,” a House Democratic aide told The Hill.
The aide added that “bipartisan, bicameral meetings to work out the details of the coronavirus supplemental will begin today. The strong desire of all four corners is to assemble a bill that robustly funds pandemic response and can earn bipartisan support.”
The administration briefed senators behind closed doors on Tuesday about the virus.
Schumer publicly fumed over the briefing, saying on the Senate floor that the administration’s handling of the virus has been marked by “towering and dangerous incompetence.”
“Here in the United States, the Trump administration has been caught flat-footed. The administration has no plan to deal with the coronavirus — no plan, and seemingly no urgency to develop one,” Schumer said.
–Updated at 12:02 p.m.