The Republican senator who had been leading negotiations with the White House over new pandemic relief funds on Thursday accused the Biden administration of giving him “patently false” information when he said he had no money to buy more vaccines and treatments for coronavirus. the coronavirus, in a tense tone. trade that seemed to further dim the chances of Congress approving new funds.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said during a heated Senate health committee hearing that he was surprised last week when White House officials announced they would repurpose $10 billion in federal Covid-19 dollars earmarked for testing. of viruses and protective equipment and would spend the money instead. about antiviral drugs and vaccines. That, he contended, meant the administration wasn’t running out of money for coronavirus supplies after all, even though the White House made it clear it would cut back on some types of supplies while redirecting funds to replenish others.
Administration officials have said for months that unless Congress authorizes new spending, they won’t be able to buy more pills and injections in anticipation of a possible fall wave. The White House has asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency aid; Romney helped broker a $10 billion compromise, which remains stalled.
“Washington operates on a relationship of trust between the respective parties, the administration and Congress,” Romney said, “for the administration to provide us with information that was patently false is something that dramatically undermines that trust.”
Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary of health for emergency preparedness and response, testified that the administration had to make “significant concessions, concessions that none of us wanted to make” in diverting the $10 billion.
She said the money comes in part from the administration’s coronavirus testing program and the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical stockpile, which said it would not be able to buy domestically made surgical gowns and “will fight to be able to maintain” their current levels of protective equipment as a result. Stock shortages were a major issue early in the pandemic, when many health care workers became infected or died from lack of necessary protective equipment.
Romney’s comment reflected a broader political issue that Republicans are likely to raise during their midterm election campaigns: that the administration had wasted aid dollars on Covid-19, a charge the White House has tried to refute. Jenn Psaki, former White House press secretary, brought a 385 page informative book to the White House briefing room in April, which he said detailed what money had been spent, when and for what reason.
“We have also given Congress a full account of every dollar spent,” Ms. Psaki said then.
Thursday’s session was the Senate health committee’s first hearing on the coronavirus response since January, a sign that interest in the pandemic is waning on Capitol Hill, as well as across the country. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for the pandemic, testified remotely from his home, where he is in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus. Also testifying were Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Each of the witnesses asked for more money; Dr. Walensky, for example, said that without a new injection of funding, the CDC would not be able to continue surveillance studies, including “comprehensive monitoring of post-Covid conditions” and studies of new mothers with Covid, and how your illness affects your health. you drink.
Republicans have insisted that any new money be offset by cuts to other programs. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the health committee, closed the hearing with a fiery assessment, accusing Democrats and the White House of “trying to pressure Republicans to open a checkbook, sign the check and let the administration fill the account”. balance without details about how, when or what was requested”.
“I don’t think anyone has worked harder on this issue in Congress than I have,” Mr. Burr continued. “Nobody has gone to bat for emergency money with no strings attached more than me. But there is a moment when my patience runs out.
Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, seemed more hurt than angry. He said he would not have “worked so hard” for “many weeks and intense negotiations” if he had known more money was available.
“We should be informed of what those pros and cons are, and have that discussion and help make that decision together,” he told Ms O’Connell. “You shouldn’t be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for compensation. We are not going to tell you about them. ”