The request comes amid Biden officials’ warnings that the administration is running low on money for its domestic Covid-19 response, following three months spent battling the Omicron variant that drove cases and hospitalizations to record levels. Other agencies are expected to make additional funding asks beyond the $30 billion.
While the administration anticipates it has enough vaccines and therapeutics to ride out the surge, three people with knowledge of the matter said the government doesn’t currently have enough money to respond if another dangerous variant emerges.
“We’re not prepared for the next variant,” said one of the people with knowledge of the matter. “And the one thing we learned is when Omicron comes down, something’s going to take its place.”
Many of Blunt’s GOP colleagues, however, are openly skeptical that more funding is needed, citing the country’s improving pandemic and economic outlook and the multiple rounds of federal aid Congress pumped out over the last two years, which some lawmakers believe has contributed to soaring inflation.
“We all know there’s a lot of money that hasn’t been spent,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve asked some staffers on approps to put together some numbers on that.”
Yet Blunt feels the administration can make a convincing case for additional funds.
“We asked some questions — Senator Burr and I a few weeks ago — about how the other money had been spent,” he said. “And, frankly, the categories where they’re asking for money, the money has all been spent or committed to the purposes it had been appropriated.”
Neither Blunt nor other Senate appropriators would comment on whether the $30 billion ask includes funding for both the domestic and international response to the pandemic. But the people with knowledge of the matter said the administration’s request is expected to focus largely on money needed to stockpile vaccines and therapeutics and build out testing — not on distributing more economic aid.