House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that lawmakers are nearing agreement on emergency funding for the government’s coronavirus response.
"We're coming close to a bipartisan agreement in the Congress as to how we can go forward with a number that is a good start," Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. "We don't know how much we will need. Hopefully not so much more because prevention will work, but nonetheless we have to be ready to do what we need to do.”
The Trump administration requested $1.25 billion in new funding and proposed redirecting at least that much from other programs, but lawmakers in both parties have said that falls far short of what is needed. Negotiators were reportedly considering a package of between $4 billion and $8.5 billion.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement Thursday morning insisting that any emergency money Congress provides “must be entirely new funding—not stolen from other accounts.” They also said that the package must include provisions to ensure that the Trump administration cannot shift the coronavirus funds to other uses.
Pelosi and Schumer also said that any bill must guarantee that vaccines developed for the coronavirus “are affordable and available to all that need it.” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former lobbyist and executive at drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., had generated some backlash earlier in the week by testifying before Congress that he could not promise that a vaccine would be affordable. “We can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest,” he said.
Vaccine affordability an issue: But some Republicans said that affordability has not been a problem with pandemic vaccines before, and others suggested the issue could be addressed in other legislation once the emergency funding was passed. Health officials have said it will take at least 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to be developed.
“I think that we’d better take care of the immediate problem and then use other pieces of legislation to get down the cost of drugs,” said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, according to Roll Call. Grassley has developed a bipartisan bill on drug prices that faces opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and many of his fellow Republicans.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at his own press conference Thursday that he is hopeful that Congress “can get this done next week” and that he expects strong bipartisan support for the negotiated package. McCarthy declined to discuss the amount of funding Congress would likely provide, but he did say that Republicans would not be seeking to offset the costs of the emergency package.
The bottom line: Both Pelosi and McCarthy took some partisan jabs at the other side in their comments, and a push by Democrats to ensure vaccine affordability reportedly could complicate negotiations, but lawmakers likely feel enough pressure to make sure they come together fairly quickly to pass supplemental funding for the virus response.