Senate finalizing $10 billion deal on coronavirus aid

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is seen during a press conference following the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Greg Nash

Senators are finalizing an agreement to provide $10 billion in new coronavirus aid as they race to try to pass a bill before a two-week break set to start in days. 

Senators negotiating the deal signaled that they were close to a finalized agreement, but said they were still ironing out legislative text, waiting for an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and haggling over final details.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been in talks with a group of Republican senators, said that they were “getting close to a final agreement that would garner bipartisan support.” 

“We are working diligently to finalize language, scoring, and a final agreement on what should be funded in the final COVID package, both domestic and international,” Schumer added. 

In a sign of how close senators are to a final agreement, Schumer canceled a procedural vote on a bill that senators are using as a vehicle for a coronavirus aid deal, with the move being aimed at showing Republicans that he isn’t trying to jam them.

Republicans were more bullish about the state of the negotiations. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is involved in the negotiations, said that the group had reached a “deal in principle.” 

“We haven’t got the final draft done, and it hasn’t been scored by the CBO, but we’ve reached an agreement in principle on all the spending and all of the offsets,” Romney said. 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), another member of the group, confirmed that they had reached a deal in principle and predicted that, as it is currently negotiated, it would get the 10 GOP votes needed to advance in the Senate and ultimately pass. 

“I believe you’ll get more than 10 Republicans, maybe significantly more,” Blunt said. 

Democrats were slightly more cagey. 

“I can’t go that far. Schumer’s just said he’s still working on it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said when asked about Republicans saying there was a deal in principle. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who has been involved in the talks, said that the group of negotiators had a “framework.” 

Both sides agreed on the general outlines of the tentative agreement: That it would be $10 billion, down from the $15.6 billion that was initially included, and then removed from, a government funding bill that passed last month. The Hill first reported on Wednesday that negotiators had scaled down the coronavirus agreement to $10 billion.

That $10 billion is expected to be split to include $5 billion for therapeutics including vaccinations. 

The deal would be funded by reprogramming money passed in previous coronavirus bills. 

But it isn’t expected to redirect money that was previously allocated to go toward state and local governments. The $15.6 billion initially included in the government funding bill was paid for in part by tapping into those funds. But that sparked fierce pushback by some House Democrats, and the COVID-19 funding was ultimately stripped out of the government funding bill. 

The new Senate deal is expected to pay for the coronavirus spending by pulling from previous coronavirus-related funds including a fund that state and local governments could have used to give grants to businesses, redirecting money from aviation manufacturing and money that would have gone to venues that have now closed. 

One area of continued contention is the inclusion of funding for global coronavirus efforts, including helping raise vaccination rates in other countries. 

Romney said that $1 billion in global aid could ultimately be included in the deal under the $10 billion topline. 

Romney indicated that there are still discussions about if part of the $5 billion that’s expected to be up to the discretion of the Department of Health and Human Services would go to U.S. Agency for International Development. 

“It’s either zero to AID or a billion to AID, and that’s just uncertain,” Romney said, saying it was a decision for the White House and Democrats. 

But Coons, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s state and foreign operations subcommittee, said that he was actively pushing for more, which would increase the overall size of the package, while also acknowledging the political realities. 

“My hope is to improve it in terms of the available resources for international. … But look, I respect that there’s good faith negotiations,” he said.

Tags Charles Schumer Chris Coons Coronavirus COVID-19 Deal Mitt Romney Roy Blunt Senate Senate

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