House panel advances health bill with $24B in emergency COVID-19 funds

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved the labor, health and human services, and education funding bill for 2021, which included $24.43 billion in emergency funds largely linked to the COVID-19 crisis.

The bill advanced in a 30-22 party-line vote.

The $196.5 billion spending bill is the largest annual nondefense bill and has taken on renewed significance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reached new heights in recent days as cases explode.

"We are working together to defeat this virus, not surrender to it, and to deliver the people in this country to the dawn of recovery, not to abandon them to an economic collapse," said subcommittee chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

The question of additional funds has become controversial across the Capitol, where the Senate Appropriations Committee has stalled in part over whether to include emergency funding in the 2021 bills, with the GOP in opposition.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said that using emergency funds to boost institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set a bad precedent and that they should be funded with a bipartisan deal on overall spending levels.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has argued that supplemental spending should be taken up in the emergency bills Congress is already considering. The Senate and House are negotiating over the latest round of emergency relief, expected to pass by the end of the month.

During the markup, the committee debated provisions that would block abortion restrictions put in place by the Trump administration. The committee rejected the amendments along party lines, but the provisions would also face trouble in the Senate. 

The labor bill is expected to pass on the House floor along with the other spending bills by the end of the month, but the deadlock in the Senate could mean that Congress will have to punt past the Sept. 30 deadline for passing the bills.

Without a stopgap measure, the government would shut down. Congress may choose to put off the bills until after the election or into next year depending on the outcome of the election.