Congress Returns for a Busy Five-Week Stretch with Big Questions Remaining
The House and Senate are back in Washington and seem no closer to a deal on a supplemental COVID-19 funding package than before their two-week recess. On April 4, 2022, Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Romney (R-UT) announced that a bipartisan deal had been struck in the Senate for a $10 billion package largely focused on vaccines, testing and therapeutics. The proposal would be offset through a variety of programs across multiple agencies that had unspent COVID-relief funds. However, the package faced opposition from some Republicans in the Senate who wanted to use the opportunity to debate immigration policy—specifically, Title 42. Title 42 is a public health order intended to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Title 42 allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the authority to issue an emergency action in March 2020 permitting immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants and deny entry to asylum seekers. The Administration has announced plans to fully lift the restrictions beginning May 23, 2022. Republicans intend to bring the issue up for a vote during debate on COVID-relief, which puts vulnerable Democrats—particularly those facing elections in the fall—in a tough spot. Some House Democrats are also concerned that the package does not include funding for global COVID-19 aid.
President Biden is expected to make an official request for additional emergency funding for Ukraine, which is likely to receive largely bipartisan support. It is possible that COVID-19 funding could ride on that legislative package, or on a potential $40 billion proposal to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The latter is less likely to move, however, because only $5 billion in offsets have been identified. Expect to see a delicate dance on negotiations for COVID-19 relief to move forward.
The past two weeks have been quiet, but in the days and weeks to come, Congress will be busy with COVID-19 relief, funding and policies to assist Ukraine, budget hearings and user fee agreement discussions.
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