U.S. House speaker hints at bigger COVID aid push after $15 billion yanked from spending bill
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference March 17, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Screen shot from U.S. House video)
The need for federal funding to address COVID-19 may be greater after lawmakers removed a $15 billion relief package from an omnibus spending bill last week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
Amid reports of rising case levels overseas, Pelosi said the United States may need more than the amount negotiated with Republicans that congressional leaders eventually pulled from the $1.5 trillion government funding bill Congress passed last week. Senate Republicans demanded it be paid for with unspent money already designated for some states, but Democrats from those states rebelled at the clawback.
The COVID-19 money is now stalled in Congress. New funding could be used to buy antiviral pills that would help stop transmission of the virus and reduce the probability of new variants, the California Democrat said at her weekly press conference.
“The last thing we need is another variant,” Pelosi said. “The resources that we would have had in the bill I think need to be enhanced now because we’re another week later and we still don’t have it.”
COVID-19 aid would be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, Pelosi said.
She was not specific about where the cuts would be, and said she would hope members concerned about the cuts would recognize the importance of COVID-19 aid.
“We don’t have it right now. We have everything else right now,” she said.
The White House must ask for the additional funding, Pelosi said, and should request about $45 billion, up from the $22.5 billion that President Joe Biden asked for in the scuttled previous negotiations.
“What I’ve said to the administration is: You must ask for more,” she said. “We want it to be bipartisan, we need it to be paid for. So let’s just go for a bigger chunk. I think it should be double what they asked for.”
The speaker said most of her conversations with the White House in the past week have been about the war in Ukraine.
She opened her news conference by saying she was honored to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presentation to Congress Wednesday.
“It was all very, very powerful,” she said.
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