White House Prepares to Ration Covid Vaccines: Report

White House Prepares to Ration Covid Vaccines: Report

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, May 13, 2022

Welcome to the weekend. We hope you’re having a relatively normal Friday the 13th.

As Congress Stalls on Covid Funding, White House Prepares to Ration Vaccines: Report

With billions of dollars in additional pandemic funding stalled in Congress — and with Republicans reportedly raising questions about the Biden administration’s vaccine strategy and the wisdom of spending more federal money on the vaccines currently available — Politico’s Adam Cancryn reports that administration officials are gaming out ways to wage the Covid fight on a shoestring budget:

"Among the sacrifices being weighed are limiting access to its next generation of vaccines to only the highest-risk Americans — a rationing that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, when the White House touted the development and widespread availability of vaccines as the clearest way out of the pandemic.
"But as the government’s cash reserves dwindle, officials are increasingly concluding that these types of difficult choices will soon have to be made. And they are quietly preparing to shift responsibility for other key parts of the pandemic response to the private sector as early as 2023."

A bipartisan group of senators agreed early last month on a deal to provide another $10 billion in emergency pandemic funding, less than half of the $22.5 billion the administration had initially sought. But that dal got derailed by GOP demands for an unrelated vote on President Joe Biden’s decision to end a Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of migrants at the border.

Yet even if lawmakers were to approve the $10 billion in pandemic funding, the new money wouldn’t go very far, Cancryn reports:

"Nearly half that amount would immediately go toward paying the administration’s debt to drug company Pfizer, which has yet to be fully compensated for supplying 20 million doses of its antiviral treatment earlier this year.
"The roughly $5 billion remaining would likely be split among investments to bolster supplies of tests, treatments and vaccines. Under a best-case scenario, the administration might make those stockpiles last through the end of the year. Even then, the White House’s ability to react to a dangerous new variant would be severely limited, and funding to aid the global response would be nonexistent."

The bottom line: The failure of Congress to act is already having consequences and forcing some difficult decisions about the nation’s pandemic strategy. The administration is reportedly holding off on investing in new antiviral treatments, husbanding its resources as it prioritizes needs. The delay in new funding could prove even more costly if or when the country sees another wave of the virus.

Read the full story at Politico.

Biden Urges Local Leaders to Spend Covid Relief Funds on Police, Anti-Crime Efforts

President Joe Biden on Friday urged state and local officials to use unspent Covid-19 relief money to hire more police officers and fund anticrime efforts.

The White House said that $10 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which the president signed into law last year, has been committed to public safety spending at the state and local level, and Biden encouraged officials to use the money right away.

"My message is clear," Biden said at a meeting in the Rose Garden with local officials including mayors and chiefs of police. "Use these funds we made available to you to prioritize public safety. Do it quickly before this summer when crime rates typically surge. Taking action today is going to save lives tomorrow. So use the money, hire the police officers, build up your emergency response systems, invest in proven solutions," Biden said.

In a fact sheet, the White House highlighted the ways in which the $10 billion in public safety funds from the ARP have been committed, including $1 billion for bonuses for front-line public safety workers; more than $2 billion for crime prevention; nearly $1 billion to prevent domestic abuse; and $450 million for new equipment such as cars, radio systems and body cameras.

An eye on November: The effort to boost the police and crime prevention comes as Democrats look ahead to what could be a very difficult midterm election cycle, in which crime joins the economy as a leading issue that could determine the outcome. 

Fear of crime has been edging higher according to a Gallup poll released in April, with 53% of Americans saying they worry about crime and violence a great deal, the highest level since 2016. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the U.S. homicide rate from gun violence rose 35% in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. It was the highest level since 1994.

While a handful of progressives to Biden’s left have called for significant reforms to policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020, under the banner of "defund the police," Biden has made it clear that he has no sympathy for that approach. In his State of the Union address in March, Biden said the "answer is not to defund the police. It's to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them."

IRS Under Fire After Destroying 30 Million Tax Documents

The Internal Revenue Service, struggling to deal with a massive backlog of paper filings, decided to "destroy an estimated 30 million paper-filed information return documents in March 2021," the agency’s watchdog reported last week.

The IRS said in a statement Thursday that taxpayers "have not been and will not be subject to penalties resulting from this action." It said that it processed 3.2 billion information returns in 2020 and that the destroyed documents are not tax returns but documents submitted to the IRS by third-party payors. It added that 99% of the information returns were already processed and the remaining 1% of those documents "were destroyed due to a software limitation and to make room for new documents relevant to the pending 2021 filing season."

The agency also said that "this situation reflects the significant issues posed by antiquated IRS technology."

The destruction of documents has sparked a backlash from tax preparers, with some reportedly concerned that the decision could hamper the agency’s ability to verify returns and trigger additional error notices. "IRS management’s decision to destroy information return documents due to the processing backlog raised numerous questions regarding IRS’ decision making and risk assessment process," Edward Karl, vice president of taxation at the American Institute of CPAs, said in a statement. "The IRS’ recent statement provided some of the answers, but American taxpayers deserve to know why this decision was made and how it might impact them."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, on Friday called for President Biden to replace IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, describing the document destruction as the latest black eye for the agency.

"The IRS is vital to public confidence in our nation and its Trump-appointed leader has failed," Pascrell said in a statement. "The manner by which we are learning about the destruction of unprocessed paperwork is just the latest example of the lackadaisical attitude from Mr. Rettig. This latest revelation adds to the public’s plummeting confidence in our unfair two-tier tax system. That confidence cannot recover if all the American people see at the IRS is incompetence and catastrophe."

Quote of the Day

"We’re sitting in Washington going, ‘We’ve got this American Rescue Plan money, we’ve got this bipartisan infrastructure money and it’s no good unless it’s getting to the people who need it most.’ And we have been very focused on ensuring that as these resources are made available, and they’re not just going to the same old people, the same old places."

White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, quoted by Politico in a story about the challenges facing the Biden administration in ensuring that the federal bureaucracy delivers billions in new funding to poor rural areas.


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