Key Republicans in the House and Senate are signaling opposition to President Biden’s request for another $10 billion in funding to battle COVID, a request Biden made two months after he declared “the pandemic is over.”
The White House said this week that while COVID is “no longer the disruptive force it was” a few years ago, new subvariants of the virus are still a threat. Its letter to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said additional funding is needed to help the U.S. “stay prepared in the face of an unpredictable virus.”
“That is why we are requesting funding to help prepare for a possible winter surge, smooth the path to commercialization for vaccines and therapeutics, accelerate research and treatment for long COVID, and develop next-generation vaccines and treatments,” the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote to Pelosi. The White House wants $9 billion to fight COVID domestically and another $1 billion to help other countries keep COVID at bay.
But after trillions of dollars of spending on emergency COVID relief that many blame for high inflation, Republicans are saying enough is enough.
“President Biden wants ANOTHER $10 billion for ‘COVID funding,’” House Budget Committee Ranking Member Jason Smith, R-Mo., tweeted. “He said back in September that the ‘pandemic is over.’ He wants Congress to spend more money we do not have on a pandemic that, by his own words, does not exist.”
Smith has been critical of the trillions already spent on COVID and argued during 2021 debate on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that less than 9% of that money went directly to public health spending on the pandemic. Smith has also pointed out that Biden diverted $2 billion in COVID funding to test illegal immigrants appearing that the southwestern U.S. border.
Because the lame-duck Congress is still controlled by Democrats, Smith and other Republicans will likely be powerless to stop the House from approving new COVID funding. The White House wants Congress to include $10 billion in COVID funding into a larger bill funding the government after December 16, and the GOP can’t stop House Democrats if they are committed to delivering that outcome.
If that happens, it will be up to Senate Republicans to slow down the bill, which may not be easy if it’s included in a last-minute omnibus spending bill that’s need to avoid a partial government shutdown. But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Fox News Digital that Republicans should be ready to fight.
“The public is sick of the status quo in Washington and Joe Biden’s failed policies,” he said. “Millions of Republican voters turned out to demand a change. But the White House is nevertheless rolling full-steam ahead with more funding for nation building, foreign wars, and a fake COVID ‘emergency’ used to justify their far left agenda.”
“It’s more of the same failures from this administration and Republicans in the Senate ought to use this opportunity to actually stand up to it,” Hawley added.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, a member of the Senate GOP leadership who unsuccessfully challenged Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the top leadership slot, also opposes more COVID money.
“President Biden said the pandemic is over, so it’s hard to imagine how he could justify this ask,” said McKinley Lewis, communications director for Scott. “It would be insane to go even further into debt and waste more tax dollars. Everyone knows that Biden’s reckless spending is fueling his raging inflation crisis, and the American people are sick of this administration’s games on COVID.”
Biden’s request for $10 billion for COVID is just one of several extraneous spending issues Congress will have to decide before the end of the year. The White House also wants $37 billion for in aid to Ukraine, a request Republicans are more likely to support, although the GOP has been increasingly questioning these requests.
The White House also wants billions in funding to help Florida and other parts of the country recover from natural disasters.
Congress may also be looking at extending certain tax exemptions and may boost certain areas of federal spending as it looks at the omnibus bill to keep the government functioning. All of these decisions would require new borrowing, which budget hawks warn would have an inflationary impact on the U.S. economy.