Lawmakers in both the House and Senate announced plans to draft an emergency supplemental spending bill expected to exceed the $2.5 billion request submitted by the White House on Feb. 24 to battle Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The White House request, which specifies $1 billion for vaccine development, proposed to reallocate funds from other existing sources — with $535 million in repurposed funds from the Ebola virus response and $136 million in already appropriated funds from existing programs.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar testified in front of multiple committees this week. On Feb. 26, Azar testified in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, telling the panel that the administration needs to be “flexible” on a final package and that the administration would work with Congress to allocate more funds if necessary.
Congressional leaders in both parties and chambers expressed concern about the request, with most agreeing that it was too low. In response to the administration’s request, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked for an $8.5 billion emergency spending package to fight the coronavirus. The request would provide $3 billion in funding for HHS’s public health and social services emergency fund, $2 billion for state and local health departments, $1.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s infectious disease rapid response fund, $1 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development emergency reserve fund, and $1 billion for vaccine development at the National Institutes of Health.
While details of the emergency spending bill that Congress is negotiating have not yet been released, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he expects Congress to consider the package within two weeks.
In a press conference on Feb. 26, President Donald Trump indicated that the White House would accept any funding Congress provides and announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the government’s response to the outbreak. Vice President Pence announced on Feb. 27 that Ambassador-at-Large Debbie Birx, who has led the U.S. efforts to combat HIV and AIDS since 2014, would serve as the coronavirus response coordinator.