Senate panel advances pandemic preparedness bill on bipartisan vote
The Senate Health Committee on Tuesday advanced on a broad bipartisan vote a bill aimed at improving preparedness for future pandemics.
The 20-2 vote, with GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Braun (Ind.) voting no, illustrates that there are some areas for bipartisan cooperation around improving the country’s response to pandemics, even amid a fierce battle over funding.
One of the most notable aspects of the wide-ranging measure is the establishment of a task force modeled after the 9/11 Commission to investigate both the U.S. response to COVID-19 and the origins of the pandemic, a fraught subject that has included debate over whether the cause could have been a lab leak in China.
The measure also includes changes such as creating an Office of Pandemic Preparedness in the White House, improving public health communication and data collection, and making the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a Senate-confirmed position with a strategic plan developed every four years.
Advocates, however, have been pushing Congress to provide far more funding for pandemic preparedness in areas such as enhancing the development of vaccines for future threats.
While the measure advanced Tuesday would authorize some new funding that could be approved by Congress through the annual appropriations process, it does not directly include major new funding.
The White House previously called for as much as $65 billion to prepare for future pandemics, but that initiative is stalled in Congress.
Far from providing money for future pandemics, Congress is currently locked in a dispute about providing new funds even for immediate COVID-19 needs.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chair of the committee, said the measure would further the goal that “when the next public health crisis comes around we are never in a situation like this again.”
But she noted there is still a need for “sustained annual investment in public health.”
She also called for passing the supplemental funding directly for COVID-19, saying that while the situation has improved, a “fire is dangerous down to the last ember.”
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the committee’s top Republican, said “we agree that more funding’s needed” but said “more information” from the administration is also needed to understand the current inventories and needs.
While much of the bill was bipartisan, Paul did offer an amendment to eliminate top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci’s position and divide his institute at the National Institutes of Health into three parts. The amendment failed on a 5-17 vote, with Republicans divided.