The White House said Tuesday that with no new coronavirus funding on the horizon, it was already scaling back plans to purchase monoclonal antibody medicines to prevent and treat Covid-19 and will stop reimbursing medical providers who provide Covid care for the uninsured in early April unless more money is approved.
While senior administration officials made an appeal for $22.5 billion in additional federal funding, prospects for an emergency aid package appeared dim on Capitol Hill. The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, said a bill to provide the money would be “a much heavier lift” if the administration did not come up with ways to offset the cost.
Republican senators, who are demanding a better accounting of how the Biden administration has already spent hundreds of billions in pandemic aid, are digging in. They want it to be paid for by repurposing funds from other programs.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the committee that controls health spending, said he spoke to Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, on Tuesday about the impasse. Like many other Republican senators, he said he supported buying more therapeutics, tests and vaccines — but with a catch.
“My advice to them is be as transparent as you can possibly be with what money’s left and where it would be spent, if it’s spent the way it was designated, and how much money you need, and how long that will last,” Mr. Blunt said.
Senior administration officials, speaking on a conference call with reporters, repeated their initial request for the full $22.5 billion in new money. The amount was slashed by Congress to $15.6 billion, but even that is now hanging in the balance. Lawmakers stripped Covid relief funding out of the spending bill they passed last week because of a dispute over whether $7 billion of the money should come from funds allocated to the states.
On the same day that the administration renewed its push for more funds, a Senate panel voted to create an independent commission to investigate the causes of the pandemic and the federal response. It is part of a broad pandemic package that the panel voted to send to the full chamber.
With coronavirus cases rising in parts of Europe, some Asian countries experiencing severe outbreaks, and public health experts warning of the possibility of another variant or a summer or fall surge in the United States, the Biden administration is increasingly worried that without more money, it will be caught unprepared.
President Biden’s new coronavirus response plan, outlined earlier this month, included plans to secure more antiviral pills; to build up testing capacity; and to accelerate development of the next generation of vaccines, with the hope that one might protect against multiple variants. Without funding from Congress, officials warned, those plans are in jeopardy.
White House officials have repeatedly said they were out of money for vaccines, testing and treatment. On Tuesday’s call, administration officials, who declined to be identified by name, offered more specifics than in the past. They said the administration wanted to place new orders for monoclonal antibody treatments — including Evusheld, a drug authorized to protect high-risk American from Covid-19 — by the end of March, but would be unable to do so without additional funding.
The federal government has been purchasing the treatments from manufacturers and providing them to the public free of charge. But in order to keep the treatments free for as long as possible, senior officials said, the administration expects to cut back on the quantities shipped to states beginning next week.
On Capitol Hill, the fate of the Covid relief bill is unclear. House Democrats discussed bringing the measure to the floor for a vote this week, but it was unclear whether they would do so if the measure were not guaranteed to pass the Senate.
House Democrats initially thought they had addressed Republicans’ objections by taking money from other programs to offset the $15.6 billion, including $7 billion from relief funds allocated to the states. But governors balked at that, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to withdraw the Covid funding from the $1.5 trillion comprehensive spending package that was approved last week.