White House unveils $2.5-billion emergency coronavirus plan
The White House budget office said the funds are for vaccines, treatment and protective equipment. The request was immediately slammed by Democrats as insufficient and came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average and are increasingly seen as a potential political threat to President Trump.
The request was released Monday evening and came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other department accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
“Today, the administration is transmitting to Congress a $2.5-billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies,” said White House budget office spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities.”
The administration is requesting $1.25 billion in new funding and wants to transfer $535 million more in funding from an Ebola preparedness account that’s been a top priority of Democrats. It anticipates shifting money from other Health and Human Services accounts and other agencies to complete the $2.5-billion response plan.
Senators returning to Washington after a weeklong recess will receive a classified briefing Tuesday morning on the government’s coronavirus response, a Senate aide said. A spokeswoman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the panel “will take their input into account as we continue to do our due diligence to determine what additional resources are necessary.”
Some company stocks are rising across a range of industries as investors see a chance to make money off fears about the coronavirus.
Democrats said the request is insufficient and said Trump’s attempt to go after existing Ebola prevention funding is a nonstarter.
“All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic and the administration has no plan,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who criticized a shortage of kits to test for the virus and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have a crisis of coronavirus and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response.”
Trump was a vocal critic of President Obama’s response to the 2014 Ebola scare, which barely touched the U.S. but was seen as a factor in that year’s midterm election, which restored control of the Senate to Republicans.
Trump took to Twitter on Monday to defend his record.
“The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock market starting to look very good to me!” he tweeted.
Among the needs is funding to reimburse the Pentagon, which is housing evacuees from China — who are required to undergo 14-day quarantines — at several military bases in California.
More than 100 of the new infections were among those who attended services or were affiliated with a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu.
Democrats controlling the House wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called the plan “woefully insufficient.”
“Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds,” Lowey said in a statement. “Their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities.”
Azar is slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.
The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy. Almost 80,000 people have contracted the disease, with more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in China.
The United States, however, has had only 14 cases of the disease spread across seven states.
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