Biden to Ask Congress for More Covid 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 or 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.
Powell Tells Lawmakers He’s Ready to Raise Interest Rates as Needed
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, under consideration for a second four-year term leading the central bank, assured lawmakers Tuesday that he’s willing to do what it takes to bring down inflation.
Saying the central bank will act “to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched,” Powell told the Senate Banking Committee that the economy is rapidly healing and that he was optimistic that bottlenecks in the supply chain will ease in the coming months, reducing inflationary pressure. And if inflation does persist, Powell said the bank is ready to respond. “If we have to raise interest rates more over time, we will,” he said. “We will use our tools to get inflation back.”
Fed officials have signaled that they expect to raise interest rates three times this year, with the first increase coming as soon as March. Powell’s comments hint at the possibility of a fourth increase, should conditions warrant it.
Officials have also indicated that they may start to shrink the central bank’s balance sheet this year as part of the effort to reduce monetary support for the economy. Powell said that the process could begin “perhaps later this year.”
U.S. Covid Hospitalizations Reach New Record
The omicron surge of the coronavirus has driven U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations to a new pandemic high of 145,982, topping the previous record set in January 2021, according to government data.
The number of people hospitalized with Covid is reportedly about double what it was two weeks ago — and it’s expected to continue climbing, overwhelming the nation’s hospitals and medical personnel. “If models of omicron’s spread prove accurate — even the researchers who produce them admit forecasts are difficult during a pandemic — current numbers may seem small in just a few weeks,” The Washington Post reports. “Disease modelers are predicting total hospitalizations in the 275,000 to 300,000 range when the peak is reached, probably later this month.”
Pfizer Plans Omicron-Specific Vaccine by Spring
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC Monday that his company will have an omicron-specific version of its vaccine ready by March. The company plans to have 50 million to 100 million doses of the new version of the vaccine available by last March or early April, a spokesperson told The Washington Post. “We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk,” Bourla said Monday. That means that Pfizer will absorb the cost of production if the doses aren’t needed.
Moderna announced Monday that it is working on an omicron-specific booster shot, which will be ready by late 2022.
Biden Officials Consider Plan to Send Americans Better Masks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its guidance on masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, weighing a recommendation that people wear N95 or KN95 masks rather than cloth face coverings, according to The Washington Post. And Biden administration officials are discussing whether to provide such better-quality masks to all Americans, Politico reports. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and other public health experts have been pushing for a plan to widely distribute N95 and KN95 masks, though some administration officials are concerned that the effort won’t make much difference in predominantly Republican parts of the country because of the politicization of mask-wearing.
Quote of the Day
“I think it's hard to process what's actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get Covid. All right, and what we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.
– Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, discussing the omicron surge in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee on Tuesday
- Biden Calls for Changing the Filibuster in Major Voting Rights Speech – Washington Post
- Powell Assures Americans That Fed Will Tackle High Inflation – Bloomberg
- Fed Will Pivot Toward Balance Sheet to Protect the Yield Curve – Bloomberg
- Medicare to Pay for Biogen’s New Alzheimer’s Drug in Clinical-Trial Patients – Wall Street Journal
- Biden’s Covid Response Comes Under Fire in Senate Hearing – Bloomberg
- In a Fiery Hearing, Fauci Accuses Senator Rand Paul of Fueling Threats Against His Life – Bloomberg
- Omicron Now Accounts for 98% of US Covid-19 Infections, CDC Estimates Show – CNN
- US to Buy 600,000 More Doses of Monoclonal Antibody That Works Against Omicron Variant – CNN
- White House Says Plan to Send Free Rapid Tests to Americans Wasn't Rolled Out Earlier Due to Testing Supply – CNN
- Global Cases Reach New Pandemic High, WHO Officials Say – Washington Post
- Here’s Another Thing the Pandemic Has Screwed Up: Economic Forecasts – Washington Post
- Clinics Say California’s New Medicaid Drug Program Will Force Them to Cut Services – Kaiser Health News
Views and Analysis
- This Is the Most Important Thing Biden Can Do to Get Inflation Under Control – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- Inflation Isn’t Biden’s Fault. And He Can’t Solve It, Either. – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
- Biden Should Fight Corporate Concentration, but Not Because of Inflation – Timothy Noah, New Republic
- Jerome Powell Pitches Benevolent Interest-Rate Hikes Again – Brian Chappatta, Bloomberg
- Will Biden’s Picks for the Fed Alter Its Hawkish Path? – Daniel Moss and Brian Chappatta, Bloomberg
- Is Government Money Creation Actually Enabling Deficit Spending? – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- Why Is the U.S. Trying to Export Its Flawed Health-Care Policies Around the World? – Rebecca Riddell, Washington Post
- Macron Is Right: It’s Time to Make Life a Living Hell for Anti-Vaxxers – James McAuley, Washington Post
- It’s Not Too Late to Avoid Getting Covid – Faye Flam, Bloomberg