President Biden is readying to ask Congress to shell out an additional $30 billion in taxpayer money to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Administration officials say the money is needed to bolster vaccine distribution, testing sites and overall treatment for the virus.
“These resources would help us continue expanding the tools the country needs to stay ahead of the virus and help us move toward the time when COVID-19 will not disrupt our daily lives,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
So far an official request has yet to be made, but administration officials have held talks with Senate Republicans on the matter. The White House is hoping to include the additional $30 billion in funding in a year-long budget measure that lawmakers have until at least March 11 to devise.
“While we continue to have sufficient funds to respond to the current omicron surge in the coming weeks, our goal has always been to ensure that we are well-prepared to stay ahead of the virus,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Of the $30 billion requested, $18 billion is earmarked for antiviral drugs and vaccines. Roughly $5 billion will go to shore up testing facilities across the country, while $3 billion for clinics and nonprofit groups that treat individuals without insurance.
A further $4 billion is slated for research and development to ensure the U.S. stays ahead of the curve when it comes to future COVID-19 variants.
Most GOP lawmakers are wary of any new COVID-19 funding given that Congress has already appropriated more than $6 trillion over the past two years.
Republicans say there has been little oversight as to how the money has been spent and how much remains in the federal government’s coffers.
“After spending trillions of dollars, the Biden administration is requesting an additional $30 billion with no clear plan and no transparency,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“For months, [our committee] has asked for complete details on how the administration spent funds from the Democrats’ nearly $2 trillion spending bill they rushed through Congress a year ago,” she said.
GOP lawmakers also note that vaccination rates are steadily increasing, while the number of individuals being hospitalized is decreasing.
“This is not the emergency America faced at the beginning of the pandemic. Today, we have effective vaccines and therapeutics,” said Mrs. McMorris Rodgers. “It’s time to unwind this pandemic of bureaucracy, get government out of the way, and allow Americans to return to normal life.”
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who has been privy to discussions with HHS officials about the funding request, said he understood the concerns of fellow Republicans. But he added that White House officials were only requesting additional money for programs that had run dry since the last coronavirus relief bill was passed.
“In the categories [that] they are asking for money, the other money has all been spent or committed to other purposes,” said Mr. Blunt.
Health, The New York Today