Biden to Ask Congress for More Covid Pandemic Aid Funds

Biden to Ask Congress for More Covid Pandemic Aid Funds

The White House plans to ask Congress for more money to spend on the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to reporters Tuesday.

The funds will target vaccines, testing and aid for schools, Hoyer said, but the timing of the request remains to be determined, as does the legislative vehicle to deliver the funding.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that preliminary discussions between lawmakers and the White House have begun. "There's been discussion about what we need with regard to [COVID-19], both domestically and internationally," DeLauro said. "So we will see how that manifests itself. But I think, you know, we'll take a look at that and see how that fits in with an omnibus," she added, referring to the spending bill for fiscal year 2022.

Republicans may oppose: No Republicans voted for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law last March, and it’s not clear that GOP lawmakers are interested in another round of pandemic-related spending.

For now, Republicans are focused on unspent funds from previous Covid relief efforts. On Monday, GOP Sens. Roy Blunt (MO) and Richard Burr (NC) sent a joint letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking for an accounting of the $266 billion Congress had already provided to assist schools during the pandemic. "What concerns us is that, as of December 30, 2021, 86 percent of funding remains unspent by K-12 school districts and 36 percent remains unspent by colleges and universities," they wrote.

Asking why schools are closing during the latest wave of Covid-19 infections, they said that “more money isn’t the answer” when it comes to keeping schools open. “Schools have the funding necessary to address the impacts of COVID-19 and keep students in school,” they said.

The bottom line: Democrats are discussing more funding to fight the pandemic, but Republicans may not get on board. The issue could be a stumbling block as lawmakers try to hammer out a budget deal for the current fiscal year ahead of February 18, when the current short-term funding agreement expires.