Senate Democrats have made a request for $8.5 billion to combat the coronavirus, setting up a spending showdown in Congress where lawmakers are grappling with how to help contain the disease.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, formally released a proposal on Wednesday for the emergency funding, saying in a statement that it “brings desperately-needed resources to the global fight against coronavirus.”
But there are a number of potential hurdles ahead as lawmakers scramble to take steps to respond to the disease.
To start, Schumer’s request sets up a possible fight with the administration, which earlier this week requested $2.5 billion and only $1.25 billion of it is new funding.
The White House and Senate Democrats are at least $6 billion apart when it comes to determining how much funding the federal government needs to combat the coronavirus epidemic.
Soon after Schumer proposed an $8.5 billion package, a senior Trump administration official told CNN that the administration is “very confident” that its request for $1.25 billion in new emergency funds as part of a $2.5 billion total package will be sufficient to fund the US coronavirus response.
It’s not just Democrats, however, who are calling the Trump administration’s funding request insufficient. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that he worried that administration was “lowballing” the request.
One issue that officials are confronting at the moment is determining exactly how much funding is needed.
Capitol Hill sources told CNN that the Trump administration has already indicated that they know they will need more money down the line than initially requested.
The five-part request from Schumer includes $1.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including for the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund and Global Health Security; $3 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund; $2 billion set aside for state and local reimbursements; $1 billion for the USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund; and $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Development program.
Then there’s the question of what House appropriators will do — and whether the House and the Senate will be in alignment.
A House Democratic aide told CNN that they “are still assessing what amount of funding is needed” because of a lack of information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“Bipartisan, bicameral meetings to work out the details of the coronavirus supplemental (funding) will begin today. The strong desire of all four corners is to assemble a bill that robustly funds pandemic response and can earn bipartisan support,” the aide said.
The request from the minority leader comes as fears of the coronavirus and concerns over the US’ ability to adequately respond to it continue to rise. On Tuesday, one of the top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that health experts foresee the disease that has killed thousands spreading in the United States.
Since returning from recess, Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern the administration may not be fully equipped to handle a potential outbreak in the United States, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the White House’s funding effort “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency,” and Republican Sen. John Kennedy pressing the acting Homeland Security secretary over the current level of preparation to deal with its spread during a tense hearing on Tuesday.
Schumer had dismissed the White House’s funding request as “too little, too late,” calling Trump’s move to repurpose funding previously appropriated for the prevention and treatment of Ebola “indicative of his towering incompetence and further proof that he and his administration aren’t taking the coronavirus crisis as seriously as they need to be.”
“We’ve seen no sign that President Trump has any plan or urgency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus — we need real leadership and we need it fast,” Schumer added.
Trump tweeted shortly after returning home from India on Wednesday that he had a meeting on the virus planned later in the day and that his staff were all doing a “great job.” He announced Wednesday morning that he will hold a news conference at the White House about coronavirus at 6 p.m. ET.
The President said on Twitter on Monday that the disease is “very much under control in the USA” and that the stock market was “starting to look very good to me,” linking the two together. Global markets, however, have been rocked by fears of the coronavirus in recent days, with investors showing concern that the outbreak could turn into a pandemic that will seriously hurt corporate earnings and economic growth.
Responding to Trump’s claim that the disease is under control in the US, Pelosi told CNN on Wednesday, “I don’t think the President knows what he’s talking about — once again.”
The US now has 35 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. More than a dozen Americans who tested positive for the disease returned to the US this week after spending weeks in isolation on the luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in Japan.
During the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Kennedy, who represents Louisiana, sparred with acting Secretary Chad Wolf over the issue in an exchange that highlighted the growing bipartisan concern about it. At one point, the lawmaker told the official that “the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus and I’m not getting them from you.”
“I disagree,” Wolf responded, and he also directed some of Kennedy’s questions to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After the hearing, Wolf spoke with reporters and defended his department’s readiness to defend against the disease, saying, it’s “implementing a number of operational measures at airports, seaports and land ports of entry. And we’ll continue to do that.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.