GOP chairman of Appropriations panel worries Trump ‘lowballing’ coronavirus funding request

The GOP chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Tuesday he is concerned the Trump administration is “lowballing” its request for emergency coronavirus funding and that he will recommend a “higher” number. 

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he has heard complaints that the $2.5 billion requested by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is not enough to prepare for a possible pandemic. 

“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 HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday during a hearing on the agency’s budget request. 

“If you lowball something like this, you’ll pay for it later,” he warned. 

Shelby told reporters afterward he doesn’t have a new number in mind but that it will be “higher” than the $2.5 billion requested by HHS. 

Azar said the administration would work with Congress if lawmakers think more money is needed. 

“We’ll be of the mindset to fund this crisis, not to underfund it in any way, and I hope this administration would look at this as something they cannot afford to let get out of hand,” Azar said.

The administration’s request includes $1.25 billion in new funding, with the rest to be taken from existing health programs, including $535 million from fighting Ebola. 

More than 77,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in China, where it was first detected. More than 2,000 cases have been identified in other countries, including 57 in the U.S. That includes 40 cases identified in people who had been repatriated to the country from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.  

—Peter Sullivan contributed. Updated at 12:16 p.m.

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