Senators trade offers in scramble for coronavirus deal

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaks to reporters in the basement of the Capitol in between procedural votes regarding Department of Defense nominations on Wednesday, February 16, 2022.
Greg Nash

Senators are swapping offers as they scramble to try to get a deal on coronavirus relief before they leave for a two-week break in a matter of days.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) met Wednesday with Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), who are negotiating for Republicans.

He then met for a second time with members of the group and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, on Wednesday night.

Senators are haggling over how to pay for $15.6 billion in coronavirus relief after it was stripped out of a government funding bill because of pushback from House Democrats who didn’t want to repurpose state and local government money to help cover the spending.

Republicans are insisting that any new coronavirus relief be covered by a coronavirus bill passed by Democrats last year.

“His proposal is different than ours, so they’re getting closer, but there’s still a gap between them,” Romney said, referring to the differences between an offer from Schumer and the GOP offer.

The current hang-up is over how to pay for the coronavirus aid, which would cover vaccines, treatments and testing.

Republicans gave Schumer a list of potential ways to pay for the coronavirus relief on Tuesday and said that the Senate majority leader gave them his own list of potential areas the funding could come from on Wednesday.

Romney added that he thought they were making “good progress” and that the differences were “narrowing.”

Lawmakers are under fierce pressure to pass new funding from the Biden administration, which is warning that the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic is hanging in the balance.

“Just as we reached the critical turning point in this fight, Congress has to provide the funding America needs to continue to fight COVID-19,” President Biden said. “This isn’t partisan. It’s medicine.”

Without new funds, the administration is cutting back on the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments to states, while a program to pay for tests and treatments for the uninsured is out of money.

Officials also say there is not enough money to purchase additional booster shots for all Americans if a fourth vaccine dose is needed.

There’s also a looming two-week break scheduled to start on Friday, April 8, helping drive some urgency in the talks.

“We are not yet at the finish line, but we will keep working throughout the day, and I am committed to working with the other side reasonably and in good faith,” Schumer said earlier Wednesday.

“The consequences of not getting COVID funding are really serious — scary, almost,” he added.

Schumer is also already taking steps on the Senate floor to speed up how long it would take to pass a coronavirus relief deal, underscoring both the crowded Senate calendar and the looming recess.

But Republicans have also signaled that they are willing to walk away if the talks can’t reach an agreement.

“I’m an old deal guy. I’m very comfortable with deals that don’t make it. … If you can’t get there, you don’t get there,” Romney said.

In order to get a deal through the Senate, the group will need to come up with a plan that can win over at least 10 Republicans.

Republicans have questioned the urgency of the need for more coronavirus relief.

“I just don’t think there’s going to be a way to get this done unless they’re agreeable to some of the ways the money would have to be repurposed,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

But if the group of negotiators can get there, Thune predicted that enough Senate Republicans would support it to get it through the chamber.

“If they agree to something, my assumption is it will be something that there will be 10 votes for,” Thune said.

Tags Chuck Schumer coronavirus relief Mitt Romney Patty Murray testing Vaccines

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