House progressives on Wednesday urged President Biden to boost funding for pandemic preparedness and global vaccination efforts, calling on him to take a number of additional steps to address what they called “critical opportunities that we must seize as a country to crush the pandemic worldwide.”
In a letter to the president, the Congressional Progressive Caucus led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) urged Biden to “redouble” efforts to pass the Build Back Better Act and increase pandemic preparedness funding in the bill from $1.3 billion to $8 billion, including $2 billion dedicated to global vaccine manufacturing.
“Given the renewed urgency for forceful legislative action with the rise of the Omicron variant, the passage of the Build Back Better Act is more essential than ever,” Jayapal and 29 other Democrats wrote. “We ask for your support for this funding increase as you engage in negotiations with the Senate and House to enact the legislation.”
The group also called for additional fiscal year 2022 appropriations to help the global fight against Covid-19, citing expert estimates that $17 billion is needed to speed vaccine distribution with a goal of reaching 70% vaccine coverage worldwide by mid-year. In addition, the lawmakers urged the White House to step up diplomatic efforts to share vaccine technology and intellectual property globally, saying that only 7.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of vaccine.
“As new data emerges about the quickly spreading Omicron variant, we know that the longer the global pandemic is allowed to run rampant, new, more virulent variants will continue to threaten health and economic wellbeing across the planet,” the letter said. “The harm to U.S. public health and the economy if vaccine-resistant variants are allowed to evolve are almost unfathomable.”
The letter also called for the White House to scale up production of mRNA vaccines by billions of doses a year, maintaining government ownership of any increased domestic manufacturing facilities “to ensure new capacity serves public interests and does not amount to government subsidy to Moderna and Pfizer.”
The bottom line: “The caucus’s letter follows other calls for the Biden administration to adopt a more ambitious approach to helping low-income nations navigate the pandemic,” The Washington Post’s Dan Diamond notes. “The White House has said that its global vaccination strategy is working, with officials Wednesday touting that the United States has donated more than 400 million doses abroad, far more than any other country.”
What’s next: Lawmakers will be looking to increase pandemic preparedness and relief funding as they hammer out an annual spending deal, but the Build Back Better bill remains stalled.