Covid-19 Live Updates: News on Mask Mandates, Cases and Vaccines

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Congress is working Wednesday to pass a $1.5 trillion bill that would spend $15.6 billion on federal pandemic response efforts, about half of what the Biden administration initially sought to do. in the face of the continuing toll of the coronavirus crisis.

With Republicans refusing to spend fresh money on pandemic response efforts, lawmakers agreed to take funding from existing programs, including $7 billion set aside under the coronavirus relief act of $1.9 trillion from last year to help state governments.

But the review of the package hit a snag Wednesday morning, just hours after it was released, when some Democrats objected to covering pandemic aid by cutting state funding and other Covid programs. . A sufficient number of defections could deprive Democratic leaders of the votes they need to move forward.

“This deal was done behind closed doors, members found out this morning – it’s totally unacceptable,” Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, said, speaking to reporters as she left a meeting with Democratic leaders. She added, “We fought tooth and nail to get those dollars back to our state governments.”

The National Governors Association has strongly opposed proposals to roll back state funding. On Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, chairman of the association, and Governor Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, vice chairman, wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging them to “negotiate in good faith” and to preserve funding.

Action stalled in the House as top Democrats worked to keep the bill on track.

The measure would send $10.6 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for additional antivirals, vaccines and testing, as well as research and development to counter any future variants. It would also provide around $5 billion for a global vaccination effort.

In an administrative policy statement, the Biden administration welcomed the reprogrammed funding, but noted that “additional funds will be needed to continue to provide the treatments, vaccines and tests that Americans need and to prepare to fight the pandemics.” future variants”.

A coronavirus surge in the United States fueled by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has eased after new cases reached a pandemic peak in January, and many states lifted precautions and restrictions. There are still more than 1,000 new deaths a day on average, according to a New York Times database.

The White House initially launched a request for up to $30 billion, though officials eventually asked for $22.5 billion, as part of its new coronavirus response strategy. But Republicans pointed to a series of bipartisan pandemic relief bills that passed Congress in 2020 and last year’s sweeping pandemic rescue act, signed into law last March against their unified opposition, and were reluctant to approve additional funds.

Top Democrats, facing a looming deadline to fund the government by Friday and rushing to capitalize on strong support from both parties for emergency aid for Ukraine, accepted those terms as the price to go. moving forward with their first major spending program since President Biden took office. .

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, in a letter to Dear Colleague sent late Wednesday morning, urged her caucus to support the package, advising them that Democrats had delayed deeper funding cuts and that it was important to see the omnibus package promulgated.

“Democrats were also able to ensure that remaining payments to localities received no funding cuts,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “Republicans continued to push for state budget cuts, but we were able to ensure that all states received at least 91% of the state funds they hoped to receive.”

But some Liberal Democrats have questioned why party leaders agreed to claw back money to offset coronavirus aid, but not billions of dollars in emergency aid for Ukraine and other military spending. .

“To turn around and say now that we’re getting back hundreds of millions of dollars, in the name of bipartisanship, is just unbelievable,” Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, said in a statement to The Times. “I vehemently oppose efforts to recover the vital resources we need to recover fully and fairly from this pandemic.”

The comprehensive bill, which funds the government through September, affects all federal programs and would also accomplish a range of long-standing bipartisan priorities, including reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and clarifying that jurisdiction Federal regulation extends to vaping and synthetic tobacco. It would also provide $13.6 billion for emergency military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Madeleine Ngo contributed report.

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