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Senators reach $10 billion deal on COVID funds

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference following the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 29.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference following the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 29.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a $10 billion deal on another round of emergency pandemic funding requested by the Biden administration.

"This $10 billion COVID package will give the federal government — and our citizens — the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe," Schumer said in a statement announcing the deal on Monday.

The money will be directed to domestic needs for vaccines, tests and therapeutic drug treatment. About $5 billion in international aid to combat the pandemic abroad was dropped from the deal because senators could not come to terms on how to pay for it.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that the amount was less than half of the $22.5 billion the administration initially asked Congress to approve.

"This obviously does not meet all of those dire needs in this country," she said at a White House press briefing earlier in the day when asked about reports of the deal, adding that the administration will continue to lobby for more international aid to help with vaccination rates around the world.

Schumer said Congress will pursue a second supplemental funding bill "later this spring" to provide international funding, and that it will likely be linked to additional aid for Ukraine.

Timing is tight. Schumer has already taken the first step toward quickly approving the aid, by advancing a legislative shell last week that can ultimately include the COVID bill. Floor time is limited in the chamber this week when the Senate will debate the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The COVID funding also will still need to be approved by the House of Representatives, and Congress is set to adjourn next Friday for a two-week Easter recess.

Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, reinvigorated stalled talks over COVID aid that was originally included in a recent bipartisan $1.5 trillion government spending bill, but the money was scuttled at the last minute when a critical number of House Democrats objected. Some of that money would have been offset by cutting previously approved COVID funds to states, and rank-and-file lawmakers were given little notice of the change agreed to by party leaders.

Romney engaged in talks with the understanding that any new spending had to be offset and that unspent, previously approved COVID funds had to be on the table as a way to pay for it.

"Importantly, this bill is comprised of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar," said Romney.

Congress has approved nearly $6 trillion in spending to date to combat the pandemic.

At least 10 Republicans will need to support a vote on the deal, assuming all Democrats are on board in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also helped negotiate the deal on behalf of Republicans.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., before President Biden delivers the State of the Union address on March 1. Romney negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal for another round of COVID aid.
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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., before President Biden delivers the State of the Union address on March 1. Romney negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal for another round of COVID aid.

With a new variant on the rise, the Biden administration says another round of funds is urgently needed to provide the necessary vaccines, testing, and therapeutic drugs to treat sick people.

"The consequences of not getting COVID funding are really serious—scary, almost," Schumer said last week, "The rest of the world is racing to buy up the supply of these treatments and these therapeutics, and if the U.S. falls behind because of a lack of funding, vulnerable Americans, and our whole country, will pay the price."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.