Congress nears deal on billions in coronavirus aid

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Miss.) speaks on rising energy prices during a post-luncheon press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 15, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden

Lawmakers say they are close to an agreement to provide billions in new coronavirus relief, set to be tied to a massive government funding bill. 

Congress is expected to include at least $15 billion in response to the Biden administration’s request for new funding for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and testing.

Getting a deal on the funds would remove a significant hurdle for passing a government funding bill by Friday night, when lawmakers have to pass legislation or spark a shutdown. 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has been involved in drafting the bill, said that they were drafting it to include $15 billion. 

But that number isn’t locked in, with leadership debating adding more money. 

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, appeared skeptical that it would balloon to $22.5 billion, noting that it wasn’t currently “trending” in that direction.

“I don’t think the number is going to get that high, but then it could,” he said. 

Republicans had balked last week over the administration’s request for $22.5 billion, which Democrats had wanted to be emergency spending, meaning it wouldn’t have to be paid for. 

“I think that we ought to determine — and we’ve asked the administration — how much unspent money is there. There are billions of dollars unspent,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee said last week. 

But lawmakers and two leadership aides told The Hill on Monday that they had reached an agreement for the coronavirus funding to be paid for. 

Thune pointed to unspent state and local government funds that were included in previous coronavirus relief measures as a source for much of the new money in the omnibus bill. 

“I think a lot of it will come from there,” he said while noting that the bill was still being finalized. 

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus funding coronavirus pandemic coronavirus relief COVID-19 COVID-19 pandemic government funding Government shutdown John Thune Richard Shelby Roy Blunt

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