Healthcare

White House warns of ‘severe’ hit to COVID-19 response after funding dropped

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The White House on Wednesday warned of “severe consequences” for the country’s COVID-19 response after Congress stripped funding to fight the virus out of a government funding package.  

The Biden administration warned that without the additional funding, testing capacity will start declining this month, potentially requiring months of ramp up if a new variant causes another surge.

In May, the supply of monoclonal antibody treatments will run out, and in September, the supply of antiviral pills like Pfizer’s highly-effective Paxlovid will be exhausted. The White House previously noted orders need to be placed well in advance.  

“Simply put, failing to take action now will have severe consequences for the American people,” a White House official said Wednesday.  

“We requested $22.5 billion for immediate needs to avoid severe disruptions to our COVID response, and we requested Congress provide these funds as emergency resources – as lawmakers have done multiple times on a bipartisan basis under the prior Administration,” the official noted.  

The $15.6 billion to fight COVID-19, already less than the White House request, was removed from the must-pass government funding bill earlier on Wednesday, though, amid a partisan fight.  

Senate Republicans have insisted that the funding be offset with cuts elsewhere, pointing to the billions already provided in pandemic funding.  

It appeared that there was a bipartisan deal on the $15.6 billion, offset in part by rescinding some state aid provided in an earlier relief bill. But some House Democrats objected to their states losing out on some relief funds, even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that all states would still receive at least 91 percent of their expected total.  

Those objections led Democratic leaders to ultimately remove the COVID-19 funding, with Pelosi calling it “heartbreaking.” 

It is now unclear how the funds can make it into law. Without the state relief offsets, Senate Republicans object, and with them, some House Democrats object.  

House Democrats plan to vote on a separate COVID-19 funding bill without the offsets, but that is set to be blocked by Senate Republicans.  

Amid the funding fight, the ability to respond to a future variant and surge could suffer. The stripped-out funds also included $5 billion for the global COVID-19 response, including vaccinating people in other countries, which would help stop new variants from forming. Advocates had already criticized the $5 billion as insufficient for the global response.  

The White House had also said $22.5 billion was only enough for the short term, and it anticipated coming back to Congress for more money in the future, which is also sure to be a heavy lift to pass.  

Tags COVID-19 Nancy Pelosi
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