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$10B COVID Relief Package Agreement Reached Thanks to Bipartisan Bargaining in Senate

$10B COVID Relief Package Agreement Reached Thanks to Bipartisan Bargaining in Senate

Senate bargainers reached an agreement on Monday on a whittled-down $10 billion package for countering COVID-19 with treatments, vaccines, and other steps. However, top Democratic and Republican negotiators 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, the President ended up having to settle for far 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., although cases are diminishing across the country.

Biden Administration officials have said the government has run out of money to finance COVID-19 testing and treatments for people without insurance. They’ve also said funds are running low for boosters, vaccines focused on specific variants, free monoclonal antibody treatments, and care for people with immune system weaknesses. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) is the lead GOP bargainer and hailed the newly trimmed 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.”

The agreement comes with BA.2, the new omicron variant, expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. cases. Around 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. At least half the agreement’s $10 billion would be used to research and produce therapeutics to treat the disease. The money would also be used to buy vaccines and tests. At least $750 million would be used to research new COVID-19 variants and to expand vaccine production. “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.”

Its fate was also not guaranteed in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have criticized the ejection of global assistance. The deal is also a reduction from a $15 billion version that both parties’ leaders negotiated last month. Speaker Pelosi abandoned that plan after Democratic lawmakers rejected proposed cuts in state pandemic aid to help pay for the package. But she also signaled that House Democrats were ready to compromise.

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The measure is fully paid for by pulling back unspent funds from previous pandemic relief bills that have been enacted, bargainers said.

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