Congress closes in on deal for $7.5 billion in coronavirus funding

Bonnie Cash

Lawmakers are closing in on a deal to provide more than $7 billion in funding to combat the coronavirus, setting up Congress to pass the bill as soon as this week.  

Negotiators and aides say they are on the precipice of a deal amid growing concerns of a widespread outbreak of the virus within the United States. 
The discussions are focused on providing $7.5 billion in funding to combat the coronavirus, one source familiar with the talks told The Hill. A second source said negotiators were looking at “approximately” $7.5 billion, while noting that the figure wasn’t “set in stone,” and that they expected the agreement to unveiled on Tuesday.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said they were “that close” to the deal, while holding up two fingers close together to indicate the small space left to negotiate.  
“I think we’re so close that we’re going to get a deal,” Shelby said, adding that he hoped the agreement could be finalized as soon as Monday night. 
Shelby was cagey on what the final figure could be, only telling reporters when pressed about going above $7 billion that he would support a “high” number. 
The range being discussed by negotiators is roughly triple the $2.5 billion requested by the White House. Only half of the administration’s request would have come from new funding. 
The boost in funding being discussed by negotiators puts the final agreement closer to the $8.5 billion requested by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer told reporters that he thought appropriators were discussing a higher figure because the “need” for funding had grown in recent days. 
“When it comes to Americans’ health, when it comes to our safety, when it comes to dealing with this problem head-on, skimping doesn’t make any sense at all. If there was ever something that’s pennywise and pound-foolish, that’s it,”  Schumer added during a floor speech. 
Ten states have now reported cases of the coronavirus. Six people, all within Washington state, have died in the United States because of the virus. 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broadly said he wants to get the coronavirus funding bill passed before Congress leaves town for a mid-March recess next Friday. 
But if negotiators are able to finalize the deal, Shelby said it was possible both the House and Senate could pass the coronavirus funding bill this week. 
“I just talked to the leader,” he said, referring to McConnell. “Asked him was it possible to bring up our bill dealing with the coronavirus this week. And the indication was that if the House does theirs Wednesday and if we have cooperation … we could possibly bring it up Thursday.” 
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, said after a closed-door leadership meeting that if the Senate could pass coronavirus funding this week was dependent on when the House voted. 
“We still expect the House to pass coronavirus this week. … At one time we hoped they would do it Wednesday, we would do it Thursday, but we may be beyond that,” Blunt said.  
Tags Chuck Schumer Mitch McConnell Richard Shelby Roy Blunt

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