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On Wednesday, Democratic leaders abruptly abandoned efforts to secure approval for $15.6 billion in emergency pandemic response assistance to fund the Biden administration’s new coronavirus strategy, announcing that ‘they would drop the sprawling $1.5 trillion spending bill package amid disputes over how to cover the cost.

With Republicans refusing to commit new funds to federal efforts to deal with the ongoing toll of the crisis, top Democrats had agreed to take funding from existing programs, including $7 billion set aside under the aid law. last year’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus to help state governments.

But as rank-and-file lawmakers began combing through the package Wednesday morning, just hours before it was slated for a vote, some Democrats opposed the proposal, particularly the idea of ​​clawback. the aid on which the States counted.

Instead, Democrats chose to cut emergency aid altogether, leaving the fate of President Biden’s new pandemic response plan uncertain. With funding for the entire federal government set to expire on Friday without congressional action, Democrats have had little time to try to negotiate an alternative.

“It is heartbreaking to cut Covid funding, and we must continue to fight for urgent Covid relief, but sadly that will not be included in this bill, California Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a statement. letter to Democrats announcing the decision.

Democrats instead decided to pass a separate measure that would allocate the $15.6 billion, without clawing back aid from state governments. However, the measure would still withdraw what aides said was expired pandemic aid, in a nod to Republican concerns.

The House is expected to pass the measure as early as Wednesday night, but its path forward will likely be more complicated in the Senate, given that 10 Republican votes are needed to pass most laws.

Pressed by complaints from her lawmakers, Ms Pelosi said: ‘You talk to Noah about the flood – I didn’t get what I wanted in this bill.’

“Let’s grow on this, okay?” she said, reminding reporters that Republican support was needed for the omnibus in the Senate. “We are in a legislative process. We have a deadline. We keep government open. We had a lively negotiation.

“Every line of the bill is a negotiation,” she added.

Action stalled in the House as top Democrats scrambled to keep the bill on track for a vote later Wednesday and delayed their departures for a planned retirement in Philadelphia. By mid-afternoon, it was clear they didn’t have the votes to move forward with pandemic aid given their narrow slack in the House and the anger of many Democrats. as to how it was financed.

“This deal was done behind closed doors, members found out this morning – it’s totally unacceptable,” Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, said, speaking to reporters as she left a meeting with Democratic leaders. She added, “We fought tooth and nail to get those dollars back to our state governments.”

Some liberal Democrats have questioned why party leaders agreed to Republican demands to claw back money to offset aid in the first place.

“To turn around and say now that we’re getting back hundreds of millions of dollars, in the name of bipartisanship, is just unbelievable,” said Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri. “I vehemently oppose efforts to recover the vital resources we need to recover fully and fairly from this pandemic.”

The National Governors Association has strongly opposed proposals to roll back state funding. On Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, chairman of the association, and Governor Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, vice chairman, wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging them to “negotiate in good faith” and to preserve funding.

The measure would have sent $10.6 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for additional antivirals, vaccines and tests, as well as research and development to counter any future variants. It also reportedly provided around $5 billion for a global vaccination effort.

A coronavirus surge in the United States fueled by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has eased after new cases reached a pandemic peak in January, and many states lifted precautions and restrictions. There are still more than 1,000 new deaths a day on average, according to a New York Times database.

The White House initially launched a request for up to $30 billion, though officials eventually asked for $22.5 billion, as part of the coronavirus response strategy released last week. But Republicans pointed to a series of bipartisan pandemic relief bills that passed Congress in 2020 and last year’s sweeping pandemic rescue act, signed into law last March against their unified opposition, and were reluctant to approve additional funds.

Top Democrats, facing a looming deadline to fund the government by Friday and rushing to capitalize on strong bipartisan support for emergency aid for Ukraine, had accepted those terms as the price to go. moving forward with their first major spending program since Mr. Biden took place.

The overarching bill, which funds the government through September and is still expected to pass Wednesday, touches all federal programs and would also accomplish a range of long-standing bipartisan priorities, including reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. and clarifying that federal regulatory jurisdiction extends to vaping and synthetic tobacco. It would also provide $13.6 billion for emergency military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Madeleine Ngo contributed report.

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