President Biden’s push for Congress to approve more than $22 billion in new COVID-19 spending is a nonstarter for Republicans in this month’s must-pass government funding bill.
GOP lawmakers say that additional coronavirus funding is a sticking point for them in any deal to keep the government open past Sept. 30 — the deadline by which Congress must pass a budget bill or risk a shutdown.
“In the spring, the Administration told Congress that, without additional funds, it could not afford to purchase vaccines in the fall, yet somehow money was found to support the entire need,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Rather than asking Congress for even more money now, it is high time for the Administration to be fully transparent about funds spent and balances remaining.”
Biden is requesting Congress approve $22.4 billion in new coronavirus spending. Shalanda Young, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the money is needed to restart the administration’s program for sending citizens free at-home coronavirus testing kits.
“While we have made tremendous progress in our ability to protect against and treat COVID-19, we must stay on our front foot. Doing so requires additional resources,” said Young.
Of the more than $22 billion sum, $18.4 billion is earmarked for the Department of Health and Human Services. The other $4 billion is slated to go toward global efforts to contain and manage the virus.
Democrats are aiming at tacking the spending onto a short-term funding bill, a continuing resolution (CR), that will keep the government running until early December.
However, Republicans say that Congress should not approve any more coronavirus funding given that cases and hospitalizations are on the decline. They also note that the federal government still has billions in unspent funds that were allocated through Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan last year.
“If there is any desire for fiscal responsibility in this administration, it is not evident,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Lloyd Smucker, a senior Republican on the House Budget Committee. “We’ve spent trillions already, before we spend more we need a full accounting of how that money was spent and how much is left.”
A source close to House GOP leadership told Fox News Digital that a large majority of Republicans would be unlikely to back the short-term spending bill if it includes money for coronavirus relief.
The mood is similar within the 50-50 Senate, where the short-term spending bill will need the support of at least 10 GOP lawmakers to become law.
“We just don’t think that’s necessary,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune, R-S.D. “There’s still plenty of money still swirling around from previous COVID bills.”
Even moderate Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who has shown a willingness to cut deals with the administration on prior rounds of coronavirus funding, has said that approving more pandemic spending would be a heavy lift without making cuts in other areas.
The opposition is likely to prevent the government funding bill from moving forward if it includes additional coronavirus spending. Democrats say the Republican stance is irresponsible and will put the nation at risk if the coronavirus has a resurgence.
“We need to be prepared,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’ve always been prepared as a country and it’s disgraceful that Republicans are playing political games with this when the health dimension is at stake.”
Coronavirus money is not the only thing Democrats are hoping to include in the short-term government funding bill. Biden has also requested Congress approve $11.7 billion in military and economic assistance to Ukraine, $4.5 billion to combat the spread of monkeypox and $6.5 billion in emergency disaster assistance.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that the “key” to getting Republican support for the continuing resolution is “for it to be as clean as possible.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.