White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought sent a letter to Congress requesting additional federal resources to take steps to prepare for a potential worsening of the coronavirus situation in the United States. The administration requested $1.25B in emergency funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue supporting critical response and preparedness activities. In addition, the administration requested that Congress permit the $535M in emergency supplemental funding appropriated in the FY20 Agriculture appropriations bill for the prevention and treatment of Ebola instead be used for COVID-19 response. Finally, the administration requested the ability for HHS to transfer funds to the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and other components as necessary to carry out response activities.
The February 24 letter also stated that the President created a Coronavirus Task Force and appointed HHS Secretary Alex Azar as the lead on the task force. Two days later, the President held a press conference where he announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be in charge of the administration’s response to the coronavirus. Vice President Pence, in turn, appointed Ambassador Debbie Birx as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator. Birx serves as the U.S. government’s leader for combatting HIV/AIDS globally. She will also join the White House’s coronavirus task force led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Also on the task force are Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury; Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States; Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council; Robert O’Brien, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, Department of State; Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; Joel Szabat, Acting Under Secretary for Policy, Department of Transportation; Matthew Pottinger, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor; Rob Blair, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff; Joseph Grogan, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination; and Derek Kan, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget.
Democrats criticized the request as falling short of what is really needed, and some Republicans also thought the administration’s plan may be insufficient. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said in a statement that the administration’s request was “woefully insufficient” and that her committee would “move quickly to enact a robust package that fully addresses this global emergency without allowing this administration to steal from other necessary programs.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released an emergency funding bill totaling $8.5B. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed concern about the administration transferring COVID-19 emergency supplemental funds to other purposes, such as the southwest border wall.
The House most likely will vote on a funding plan to combat coronavirus the week of March 9. Bipartisan, bicameral meetings are happening now to work out the details of the supplemental funding bill. Senate and House appropriations leaders want bipartisan, bicameral agreement on coronavirus funding legislation by early next week. The measure will likely fall somewhere between $6-8 billion. Democrats are also pushing for provisions that will prevent the president from transferring these new funds to anything other than the coronavirus and fighting infectious diseases; ensure that vaccines for the coronavirus are affordable and available to all that need it; provide interest-free loans to small businesses that are impacted by the outbreak; and reimburse state and local governments for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. The bill may skip committee consideration to go straight to the floor for a vote.
White House COVID-19 Funding Request Letter
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s Proposal