Biden signs budget bill with Ukraine aid but no virus cash

Mar 15, 2022, 9:16 AM | Updated: 10:49 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a bill providing $13.6 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as part of a $1.5 trillion government spending measure that omits COVID-19 aid the White House says is urgently needed.

The COVID spending was a casualty of negotiations over the larger government bill. The White House had asked for $22.5 billion for vaccines and treatment, but that was trimmed during talks to $15.6 billion and ultimately dropped altogether as rank-and-file Democrats rebelled against proposed cuts in state aid to pay for the new spending.

“We have made tremendous progress in our fight against COVID-19 but our work isn’t done,” Biden tweeted Tuesday. “We need Congress to immediately provide $22.5 billion in emergency funding to sustain our nation’s COVID-19 response.”

In a Tuesday call with governors, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients highlighted “severe consequences” that the lack of additional funding would have on the nation’s response, including federal support for states, according to an administration official.

The White House says that without additional funding, the federal government will stop accepting new claims next week for treating uninsured people for COVID-19 and that state allocations of life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments will be slashed by 30% to prolong their supply. The administration says it also needs more money to purchase more antiviral pills and prophylactic treatments for people who are immunocompromised, as well as to buy more vaccine doses in the event regulators recommend additional booster shots or a variant-specific booster, should one arise.

“With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months, there could be increasing cases of COVID 19 here in the United States as well,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Waiting to provide funding until we’re in a worse spot but the virus will be too late. We need funding now.”

The $1.5 trillion bill to fund the government for the current year that runs through Sept. 30 is being enacted five months behind schedule. But the money for Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion became a bipartisan rallying point for the measure as Congress urged Biden to take more aggressive steps against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has united people all across America, united our two parties in Congress, and united the freedom loving world,” said Biden.

Roughly half the $13.6 billion would arm Ukraine and cover the Pentagon’s costs for sending U.S. troops to other Eastern European nations that might see the war spill past their borders. Much of the rest is for humanitarian and economic assistance, strengthening regional allies’ defenses and protecting their energy supplies and cybersecurity needs.

The $1.5 trillion government spending bill includes a nearly 7% increase for domestic initiatives, with beefed-up spending for schools, housing, child care, renewable energy, biomedical research, law enforcement grants to communities and feeding programs. It also directs money to minority communities and historically black colleges, renews efforts aimed at preventing domestic violence against women and requires infrastructure operators to report serious hacking incidents to federal authorities.

Republicans won an almost 6% boost for defense and prevailed in retaining decades-old restrictions against using federal money to pay for nearly all abortions.

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Biden signs budget bill with Ukraine aid but no virus cash