COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Act
Congress attempted to reach a bipartisan deal on a pandemic aid package and pass it before they leave town this Thursday for a two-week recess. The White House request for $22.5 billion in new funding for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and testing was whittled down to about $10 billion after a round of bipartisan negotiations last week. The negotiators agreed to $10 billion in offsets by tapping unspent funds from prior pandemic aid laws including:
- $2.3 billion from a program intended to keep aviation manufacturing workers on the payroll;
- $1.9 billion each from unused grants for shuttered live entertainment venues and a state small business credit;
- $1.6 billion for Agriculture Department aid to commodity producers, food banks and others;
- $900 million for the Small Business Administration's economic injury disaster loan program;
- $887 million from local and tribal assistance funds, with the addition of flexibility for state, localities and tribes to use existing funds for infrastructure-related spending; and
- $500 million from aid to colleges and universities.
However, it is unlikely that the aid package will be voted on this week. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 47-52 rejecting a procedural motion to advance the bill. All Republicans voted against the motion, as they want Democrats to allow amendments on immigration. Senate Minority Leader McConnell said that it is crucial to allow an immigration amendment to garner Republican support. The amendment is expected to continue the Title 42 public health directive issued by President Trump that uses the pandemic as a rationale for expelling asylum-seeking migrants at the border.