WASHINGTON — Top Senate negotiators are working to reach a deal to provide the Biden administration with $10 billion to buy vaccines and therapeutics, Republican lawmakers said Thursday.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has taken the lead on finding common ground with Democrats to advance some money to replenish the Biden administration’s depleted Covid-19 response coffers, told lawmakers a bill is being drafted to provide roughly $10 billion.
If $10 billion is the final total, it will be roughly half of the $22.5 billion the White House asked for in March, and one-third of the $30 billion the federal health department estimated it could need in mid-February. The Biden administration has warned that funding shortages will threaten the supply of vaccine booster shots, monoclonal antibody treatments, antiviral pills, and tests.
The agreement hasn’t been finalized, and it’s unclear whether there will be 10 Republican votes to pass it yet in the Senate — several lawmakers wanted to see final details before they committed either way.
“I think there is a deal but how many of us would vote for it? I don’t know. Until it’s final and scored, it’s hard to say,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), referring to the official evaluation of how much the package will cost.
As things stand right now, roughly half of the funds would be set aside to buy therapeutics, and the other half would be set aside for the secretary of health and human services to buy a “fairly narrowly defined series of things” including vaccines and research, Blunt said.
An outstanding issue is whether any money will be allocated to help advance the global vaccination effort.
Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s health subcommittee, said it’s unclear whether any money for global vaccination efforts will make the final cut. The item is important for some progressives, including Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who said on Twitter Thursday he’s not sure if he could offer his support without it.
Republicans have demanded that all new spending be counterbalanced by leftover funds from prior Covid relief bills. Republican lawmakers said the potential deal as it currently stands cobbles together a bunch of small funding streams.
Blunt mentioned pulling more than $2 billion from a relief fund to help aviation manufacturing workers keep their jobs as an example of where the funding is coming from.
The Senate has a busy calendar next week with confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, so it’s unclear whether lawmakers will be able to pass any final agreement before they leave Washington for two weeks to work in their home states. Blunt also said that lawmakers are waiting for input from congressional budget analysts before they move forward.
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