Pelosi opens door to virus aid in spending plan as omicron rages
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WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there’s an “opportunity” to add federal coronavirus relief aid to a package of legislation funding the government as a February deadline looms.
“It is clear from the opportunity that is there and the challenge that is there,” Pelosi said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” noting that President Joe Biden’s administration “has not made a formal request for more funding.”
Additional funds to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic could be added to a bill that’s needed to fund the government after a stopgap spending measure runs out Feb. 18, she said.
“I believe that left to their own devices, the appropriators can get the job done,” Pelosi said. “Something like additional funding can be in there, can be fenced off for emergency, as would be COVID.”
Last week, two senators suggested that additional relief for U.S. restaurants and other service industries hurt by the surge of infections could be added to the spending bills. Sens. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and head of the Small Business Committee, and Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said they are working to build support for the plan among their colleagues. Pelosi didn’t specify what any extra funding might be used for.
Pelosi told CBS that the virus’s “resilience” means it’s spreading faster than in previous phases of the pandemic, underscoring the need for everyone “to get vaccinated, to be masked, to have spatial distancing and the rest. And to be tested, tested, tested.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, blasted the administration on the Senate floor last week, saying the problem wasn’t funding but the administration’s lack of a strategy for getting a handle on the virus. Biden officials focused on vaccinations at the expense of additional testing capacity, he said.
“For a full year, the administration has focused almost exclusively on one thing, and testing and treatments have not had the attention they should have had or now that they must have,” Blunt said. “That failure’s come at a steep cost. Today, Americans can’t find over-the-counter tests, and the nation lacks a comprehensive, reliable testing infrastructure.”
Pelosi said it’s unlikely that the spending bill would include an extension of the child tax credit, which expired in December, since the appropriations bill would require 60 votes in the Senate, unlike the president’s “Build Back Better” plan, which is being considered under a reconciliation process that requires only a simple majority to pass.
“The Child Tax Credit, we have to have that fight, that discussion, in the Build Back Better legislation,” she said. “In order to pass the Build Back Better, it’s under reconciliation, we only need 51 votes. The bill that is the appropriations bill requires 60 votes in the Senate. So we have to do what’s possible there.”
Asked if she had spoken to Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat whose opposition has held back the “Build Back Better” legislation, Pelosi said they have talked “over time” and that she thinks “there’s an agreement to be reached” with him on the plan.
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