Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2023|
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WASHINGTON — Senate bargainers reached agreement Monday on a slimmed-down $10 billion package for countering COVID-19 with treatments, vaccines and other steps, the top Democratic and Republican negotiators said, but ended up dropping all funding to help nations abroad combat the pandemic. The compromise drew quick support from President Joe Biden, who initially pushed for a $22.5 billion package. In a setback, he ended up settling for much less despite administration warnings that the government was running out of money to keep pace with the disease’s continued spread in the U.S.
“Every dollar we requested is essential and we will continue to work with Congress to get all of the funding we need,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “But time is of the essence. We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs.”
Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., his party’s lead bargainer, abandoned Biden’s request to include $5 billion to help countries where the disease is still running rampant.
The inability of Biden and top Democrats to protect the additional spending they wanted came after the two parties gridlocked over GOP demands to pay for it by pulling back unspent aid from earlier pandemic measures. It also reflected the diminished political force that battling COVID-19 has this election year, two years into a pandemic that began with bipartisan support for throwing trillions of dollars at it.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lead GOP bargainer, hailed the accord as one that would address “urgent COVID needs.” He also trumpeted the measure’s savings, which he said meant it “will not cost the American people a single additional dollar.”
Still uncertain Monday was whether objections by some Republicans might prevent the Senate from considering the bill this week, as Biden wants, before Congress begins a two-week spring recess. It was also not yet certain there would be the minimum 10 GOP votes needed for passage in the 50-50 chamber.
Its fate was also not guaranteed in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and many liberals have criticized the ejection of global assistance.
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