Faceplant: Dems forced to remove COVID funding over progressives' complaints

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

What a humiliating turn of events for Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, whose shove-it-through strategy on the omnibus bill just blew up in their faces. Working on a tight deadline, Democrats pushed hard to include additional COVID-19 pandemic funding as a rider to the budget, but had to agree to offset that the $16 billion with cuts in unspent state and local aid from last year’s stimulus/relief package.


After having announced the agreement and calculated the votes for the omnibus to prevent a government shutdown, progressives torpedoed the whole thing. Now Pelosi has to strip the additional funding out entirely in order to meet the government-shutdown deadline.

Pelosi’s blaming Republicans for the reversal, but we all know who killed this funding, don’t we? CNN’s Manu Raju certainly does:

No one’s going to buy Pelosi’s excuses, right? After all, this is the deal Pelosi herself negotiated with Republicans, but apparently forgot to communicate to the factions within her own party. CNN’s more formal report lays the blame not on pouncing Republicans, but on an “intra-party fight” within Pelosi’s caucus:

The massive spending bill is the product of months of negotiations, but the sprawling legislative text, which runs 2,741 pages, was released at around 1:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning just hours before House leaders planned to try to jam it through the chamber and leaving little time for lawmakers to review the measure. Lawmakers are under pressure to pass the bill ahead of a Friday deadline when government funding is set to expire in order to avert a shutdown.

But instead of moving swiftly ahead to pass the legislation, Democrats are now embroiled in an intra-party fight that is threatening to slow down the effort as members openly voice frustration and anger over how leadership has handled the process. …

The reason Democratic lawmakers from states like Washington, Michigan and Ohio, and others are upset is because they believe the money from the American Rescue Plan that is being allocated as an offset for the government funding bill is money that was promised to their states that they have yet to receive, a Democratic aide tells CNN. …

However, an aide explained that while some states got the money set aside for Covid relief all at once from the American Rescue plan, other states received their funding in two tranches, and the funding that is being reallocated from the American Rescue Plan now, they believe is that second tranche. This affects 30 states.

“We want this money back” the aide told CNN.


Republicans demanded offsets in part because no one has accounted for the pandemic-related funding that has already been appropriated over the last two years. That’s especially true of the final bill pushed by Joe Biden last year, in which $350 billion of the $1.9 trillion stimulus was supposedly earmarked for HHS pandemic activities. No one quite knows how this money got used and how much of it might still be around.

Plus, as CEI‘s Dr. Joel Zinberg pointed out a week ago, what precise emergency need will this off-budget bonus for HHS service? The Omicron wave is all but over and turned out to be entirely mild. Isn’t this the kind of maintenance issue that should be addressed in normal budgeting?

Why in the middle of plunging COVID case, hospitalization and death rates do we need additional spending? New cases have fallen by 90% from their Jan. 15 peak and are back to some of the lowest levels seen in the pandemic. New COVID hospital admissions have fallen by 80% since mid-January to levels not seen in over a year. Deaths — a lagging indicator — have been falling steadily since the beginning of February.

The White House claims more money is needed to vaccinate Americans, including children under 5. But the FDA has delayed approval of vaccines in that young age group and the CDC has not recommended it. It is not clear that either agency ever will. Seventy-five percent of those 18 and older, including 89% of the most vulnerable who are 65 and older, are already fully vaccinated and about half the country has natural immunity from previous infections. COVID poses little risk of serious illness to those below age 18.

Moreover, spending more, as the White House requests, for vaccine outreach and education after a year of non-stop public appeals, is unlikely to convince the minority of people who have thus far refused the shot.


We’re now beginning the third year of COVID, with the disease itself having moved well into the endemic stage. HHS should have planned for such efforts in its budget requests, especially since the omnibus essentially pushed the deadline for such requests to the present.

So what does Pelosi do now? She can’t go back and renegotiate with the GOP, especially on the tight timeframe around the budget deadlines. Without the offsets, the Senate GOP won’t allow the bill to pass, and it would end up coming back to the House without the offsets anyway. Pelosi now says she’ll pursue the COVID-19 funding as a standalone bill, but that won’t go anywhere:

Does anyone else get a whiff of the progressives’ meltdown over infrastructure? In that instance as well, their demands snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for months and made Biden and Pelosi look impotent. They’ve managed to pull that same trick here, effectively scotching any chance for the funding that Biden wants but HHS probably doesn’t actually need. And all for the sake of protecting blank checks in states that haven’t even bothered to cash them in a full year. Great work, everyone!


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