Billions in COVID-19 funds delayed


J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., takes a question during a news conference following a closed-door policy lunch, at the Capitol in Washington, on May 24. The Biden administration foresees unnecessary deaths if lawmakers don’t approve billions of dollars more to brace for the pandemic’s next wave. Yet the push to provide the money is in limbo in Congress.

ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is headed for “a lot of unnecessary loss of life,” the Biden administration said, if Congress fails to provide billions more dollars to brace for the pandemic’s next wave. Yet the quest for that money is in limbo as the latest victim of the election-year gridlock that has stalled or killed a host of Democratic priorities.

President Joe Biden’s appeal for vaccine funding, testing and treatments has hit opposition from Republicans, who’ve fused the fight with the precarious politics of immigration. Congress is in recess, and the next steps are uncertain, despite admonitions from White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha of damaging consequences from “every day we wait.”

Administration officials say they’re running low on money to stock up on, or even begin to order, the latest vaccines, tests and treatments. Also lacking are funds to reimburse doctors treating uninsured patients and to help poor countries control the pandemic.

House and Senate Democrats have been wrangling over how to resolve the stalemate and which chamber should vote first. It’s an open question whether they’ll ever get the Republican Party  votes they’ll need to pull the legislation through the 50-50 Senate.Prospects in the narrowly divided House are unclear as well.

There is still an urgency to pass a COVID relief package. It’s very, very much needed.

— Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Optimists hope the measure could start rolling once Congress returns next week. Pessimists say without quick resolution, Democrats may not have enough leverage to push the money to passage until early fall. That’s when they could stuff it into legislation that may be needed to finance government — a bill that would avert a federal shutdown, a pre-election distraction Republicans will be desperate to avoid.

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