US Senate reaches deal for $10bn Covid bill without global aid

Funding for vaccines and tests in US had dried up in March and White House vows to get global aid later

A Covid-19 testing site stands in Manhattan on March 31, 2022 in New York City.  AFP
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US Senate Democrats and Republicans on Monday struck a deal to provide $10 billion for Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics after Democrats dropped a last-minute attempt to include global vaccination funds in the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who had been leading negotiations on the package, announced the agreement, which meets Republican demands that any new Covid funds be paid for with unspent money from earlier pandemic relief packages.

The bill would provide far less money than the $22.5 billion that President Joe Biden's administration sought early last month, though lawmakers widely expect another infusion of money will be needed in the coming months, especially if a new variant of the disease spreads.

Mr Schumer in a statement said that Mr Biden supports the compromise and has urged its quick passage. He also said he is committed to trying to win approval of the global aid in the coming months.

“While we were unable to reach an agreement on international aid in this new agreement, many Democrats and Republicans are committed to pursuing a second supplemental later this spring,” Mr Schumer said. “America is the country other nations look to lead global vaccination efforts.”

The agreement would give the Biden administration $5 billion to buy Covid-19 therapeutics and antivirals and another $4.75 billion that could be used for a wider range of purchases, such as tests and vaccines. It would also provide $750 million for research projects for future vaccines and therapeutics.

Funding for uninsured people in the US to get free Covid-19 tests ran out in March, and the country does not have enough vaccines in stock for all Americans to get a fourth dose in the fall if health and regulatory agencies approve it.

A $15.6 billion package that had included the global funds was stripped out of the annual 2022 government budget bill in March as a result of objections from some Democrats to using money from an earlier rescue package targeted to state and local government aid.

Some House Democrats said they would oppose a package that doesn’t include the global aid.

“My position has not changed: if the Senate cuts global vaccine funding from the Covid supplemental bill, we will have a big problem in the House,” Illinois Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi tweeted.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement after the deal was announced.

"We will continue to work with Congress to fund our remaining domestic needs and will work with Senators Schumer and Romney — and others — to build bipartisan support for a package to fund our global Covid-19 response," it read.

"We must continue our work to vaccinate the world both because it is the right thing to do, and also, because as it is critical to reducing the risk of new variants, which in turn is critical to the safety of the American people."

USAID Administrator Samantha Power echoed the White House's thoughts, tweeting "cannot overstate the urgency of Congress working w/ us to fund our global Covid response."

Bloomberg News contributed to this report

Updated: April 04, 2022, 11:02 PM