Senate poised to send Trump $8.3 billion plan to fight virus

Health & Environment By: The Bullet Wire 11:00 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — An $8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak should soon make its way to President Trump after a Senate vote planned for Thursday.

The money would pay for a multifaceted attack on a virus that is spreading more widely and threatening major disruptions in the U.S. and across the globe.

The plan, passed by the House by a 415-2 vote Wednesday, would more than triple the $2.5 billion amount outlined by the White House 10 days ago. The Trump proposal was immediately discarded by members of Congress from both parties. Instead, they negotiated the increased figure in a burst of bipartisan cooperation that’s increasingly rare in Washington.

“The government’s greatest responsibility is to keep Americans safe,” said said Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who leads the House Appropriations Committee. She said the infusion of money was intended to help “protect the American people from this deadly and expanding outbreak.”

Trump was sure to sign the measure, which has almost universal support. It is intended to project confidence and calm as anxiety builds over the impact of the virus, which has claimed 11 lives in the U.S.

“This moment calls for collaboration and unity,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday. He said it was time to give public health experts and health care professionals the additional resources needed “at this challenging time.”

The legislation would provide federal public health agencies money for vaccines, tests, and potential treatments, including $300 million to deliver such drugs to those who need it. More than $2 billion would go to help federal, state and local governments prepare for and respond to the coronavirus threat. An additional $1.3 billion would be used to help fight the virus overseas.

Other dollars would be directed to help local officials prepare for the potential worsening of the outbreak and subsidize treatment by community health centers. Medicare rules would be loosened to enable remote “telehealth” consultations whereby sick people could to get treatment without visiting a doctor.

“This robust, bipartisan agreement goes far above the president’s totally inadequate request to actually meet the needs we are hearing from our states and will help ensure tests and vaccines are available to everyone who needs them,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The legislation contains a hard-won compromise that aims to protect against potential price gouging by drug manufacturers for vaccines and other medicines developed with taxpayer funds. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would have the power to make sure commercial prices are reasonable.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the administration’s response, was at the Capitol on Wednesday to separately brief House Democrats and Republicans.

“The vice president is trying to be as calming as he can and frankly his comments for the most part … his comments seem to be pretty well aligned with where we are on this,” said Ren Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Many lawmakers, health experts, and local responders have been critical of the administration’s initial handling of the coronavirus, but have sounded more assured after recent briefings.

Congressional leaders are discussing what additional steps may be needed to ensure the safety of the Capitol complex — for lawmakers and staff, as well as the annual influx of visitors this spring.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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