On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that the additional COVID funding will be taken out of the Omnibus spending bill after Republicans and some Democrats pushed back against the move.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Pelosi wrote that the Biden administration had asked that they include additional COVID funding in the omnibus package. “The funding requested will protect against potential new variants and help vaccinate the world,” she noted.
However, she added that “Republicans resisted this deeply needed funding, demanding that every cent requested by the Administration be offset, including through state and local funds scheduled to be released this spring.”
“Democrats fought to ensure that no localities saw their funding cuts, while negotiating that only half of the Administration’s $15 billion request be offset through remaining funds from expired programs,” she added, stating that because of “Republican insistence,” as well as the resistance by some Democrats, they will return to the Rules Committee to take out the COVID funding.
“We must proceed with the omnibus today, which includes emergency funding for Ukraine and urgent funding to meet the needs of America’s families. It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” she noted.
The main issue many Democratic members took with the coronavirus funding portion of the package was the idea that the $15.6 billion COVID funding would be offset by taking back some of the unspent coronavirus relief funds from states.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the package has $13.6 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, with around half going toward humanitarian and economic assistance, with the other half going toward Ukraine’s defense and U.S. allies in the region.
Several House Democrats reportedly planned to block the omnibus unless the clawback method was taken out.
“I’m not going to tolerate that,” said Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), whose state of Michigan was one of the states facing the provision. “If they can pull that out, we might be able to move forward.”
“This deal was cut behind closed doors. Members found out this morning, this is completely unacceptable,” Representative Annie Craig (D-MN) said shortly after departing from Pelosi’s office earlier on Wednesday, per The Hill.
Craig told the press that her state was one of around 30 that would have the previously allocated money taken, before noting that over $250 million to her state was “what is at risk here today.”
Republican Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson and Democratic Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy also pushed back against the revocation of any COVID aid funds allotted to local and state governments.
In a letter to Congress on Tuesday, they said such action would establish a “bad precedent in which state and local governments can no longer count on commitments made from one law to the next.”
“The package, introduced just after midnight, extends funding through the end of the fiscal year. Negotiated by leaders from both parties, it was designed to win support from both sides of the aisle, including a $42 billion increase in defense spending, favored by Republicans, and a $46 billion bump in nondefense programs, largely championed by Democrats,” The Hill reported.
The large spending package will likely take a few days to get through Congress, so lawmakers are also set to vote Wednesday on a bill to keep the government funded through March 15th to prevent a partial shutdown since the current government funds expire on Saturday.
House Democrats also created a separate COVID spending package that isn’t entirely offset and doesn’t involve clawing back money from local and state governments. It is expected to receive a vote on Wednesday night, but its fate in the Senate remains unclear.
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