Senate Approps. Vice Chair Leahy Statement Ahead of Senate Passage of the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental

This week, Congress showed strong, decisive leadership in addressing the novel coronavirus.  As Appropriators often do, and as members of Congress proved they are still capable of doing even in the most partisan times, we put our labels aside and came together for the American people.   

Unfortunately, this is something the President has not done.

By actively spreading misinformation on national television and downplaying the potential risks to the American people, I am concerned the President is thinking more about market impacts than human lives.  His administration’s proposal for $1.25 billion of new spending, plus authority to divert $1.25 billion from Ebola prevention and low-income heating assistance, was reckless and devoid of substance. 

He sought vague transfer authorities to allow his Administration to move money around in undefined ways.  It showed how little thought was provided to the amount and type of funding requested, and it was just the latest attempt to undermine Congress’s power of the purse.  Its lack of care or planning should be concerning to this body.  In fact, I would like to submit the acting OMB Director’s request letter for the record as an example of what not to do in a time of emerging crisis.  

Fortunately, there are those who remain in our government who were forthcoming with me and the bipartisan staff about the real needs to confront the coronavirus – needs that were based on facts and science.  I want to thank the staffs at the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, Office of the Assistant Secretary For Preparedness and Response, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources.  Their help was invaluable in producing in only nine days the package we will be voting on today.

Their help was invaluable because this crisis is real.  Worldwide, there are now 92,000 confirmed cases and 3,200 confirmed deaths.  Here in our country that number is rising with more than 150 confirmed cases and 11 deaths.  The CDC has also informed us that the public health system will be able to test up to 75,000 people by the end of the week, and we should expect the number of cases here to rise. 

I strongly urge support for this $7.8 billion package.  It will provide:

  • Nearly $1 billion directly to state, local and tribal governments to support public health preparedness and response;
  • Over $3 billion in research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics;
  • Nearly $1 billion for healthcare preparedness, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and community health;
  • $1.25 billion to support the response overseas;
  • $7 billion in low interest loans for small businesses; and
  • It also includes nearly $500 million to enhance availability of telehealth services across the country. 

The American people are looking for leadership and want assurance that their government is up to the task of protecting their health and safety.  It is our job to provide that leadership now more than ever. 

I am pleased that Congress included language in the bill specifying that the funds can only be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.  If there is a cynical effort by the President to shift funds from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, or the Public Health and Social Services Fund, the agencies at the epicenter of this crisis, to activities at the southwest border, it will violate the law. 

Finally, I want to thank Chairman Shelby and the Majority and Minority Leaders for their cooperation and would like to submit a list of committee staffers who worked through the weekend and late into the night to make this agreement possible. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667