WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill Wednesday to combat the coronavirus, sending the legislation to the Senate, which could act as soon as Thursday.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation, which is more than triple the size of the White House’s budget request from last week. It sends billions to address nearly every aspect of the outbreak, from vaccine research and development, to support for state and local public health agencies, to medical supplies and preparation at home and abroad. The vote in the House was 415-2.
“Congress is acting with the seriousness and sense of urgency the coronavirus threat demands,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said in the floor debate ahead of the vote. “While we all ardently hope that this public health emergency does not worsen, House Democrats will not hesitate to act again if we must augment this funding with more resources.”
The package includes more than $3 billion for research and development on vaccines, therapeutics and other treatments, as well as $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support the response from federal, state, and local public health agencies, including for lab testing and infection control.
Other parts of the deal include close to $1 billion for medical supplies, health-care preparedness and community health centers, among other things. Also included is $1 billion in loan subsidies for small businesses, which Democrats said would enable the Small Business Administration to provide $7 billion in low-interest loans for companies affected by the outbreak.
About 85% of the money in the bill would be spent domestically, and there is $1.25 billion for the State Department to assist in battling the spread of the coronavirus internationally. This would include evacuation expenses and humanitarian aid, among other things.
The final price on the bill dwarfed a $2.5 billion spending proposal the White House presented last week, which was divided between $1.25 billion in new funds and $1.25 billion taken from other accounts, such as an Ebola response fund. The congressional bill is all new money.
“We have to recognize this is one giant step,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. “In this bill, we’ll go from the administration putting forth $2.3 [billion] and money taken from Ebola and home heating to over $8 billion in clean money.”
Lawmakers of both parties viewed the initial White House spending proposal as inadequate to address the crisis at hand, in terms of both the monetary commitment and the public perception of how Congress and the White House were responding. Subsequently, Trump has said repeatedly that he’s open to approving however much money Congress sends him.
“We’re doing very well in terms of getting the funding we need, the necessary funding. I asked for X, and they want to give us more than X, and that’s OK,” Trump said Tuesday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health.
The bill also includes a provision requiring reimbursement of $136 million the Trump administration had said it was transferring from other accounts to address the virus.
Intense negotiations have been underway for days among members of the Appropriations Committees in both chambers to finalize the spending bill. Late-stage talks got hung up over language Democrats sought to include to address vaccine affordability, which some Republicans viewed as inappropriate price controls.
The issue was resolved Wednesday with the inclusion of a $300 million fund — less than Democrats initially proposed — aimed at ensuring that the federal government pays fair prices for coronavirus vaccines and drugs, and that they are made available to consumers at affordable prices.
The legislation came together with unusually speed on Capitol Hill, showing that despite partisan gridlock, lawmakers can act quickly when they feel they must. With the coronavirus outbreak, lawmakers in both parties are confronting growing alarm from their constituents and health-care providers in their districts over the availability of resources. There are now more than 150 coronavirus cases in the United States and 11 deaths — 10 in Washington state and one in California. The infection is spreading daily, and some experts say the rate could be much higher if more people were being tested.
“This legislation is how this place is supposed to work — real substance, forget the politics. We have an emergency, we really do,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “This is a moment in time where we need to step up for the safety of our families, our communities, and our nation.”