Apr 25, 2022 - Health

Ukraine aid could boost prospects for COVID package

Illustration of a life preserver in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

President Biden's call for more Ukraine aid could provide the groundwork for reviving a $10 billion COVID preparedness package that’s stalled in Congress — if Democrats can tamp down their internal divisions.

The big picture: Biden this week plans to send Congress a new funding request "in order to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight."

With support for more aid high as Ukraine's war with Russia enters a new phase, lawmakers are considering using the funding package as a catchall vehicle for the billions of COVID countermeasures that lawmakers deadlocked on before recess.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to pair the issues, Politico reported. He's not alone.
  • "We want to get both of those things done," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Punchbowl last week, adding, "I don't want to prejudge how I'll do that."

Yes, but: For that to happen, the Democrats will have to overcome procedural hurdles and finesse internal divisions that froze the COVID aid in the first place.

  • Before the recess, Republican senators insisted on a vote on an amendment to the COVID package that would block the administration's plans to halt a pandemic-inspired public health policy called Title 42, used to rapidly expel migrants at the southern border.
  • Some centrist Democratic senators disagree with the administration’s policy. But adding the Title 42 language would be anathema to progressives who say there's no health benefit to sending asylum seekers back into harm's way.
  • The challenge will be avoiding a continued standoff that could be seen as slowing down the Ukraine aid.

What's next: Dwindling funds for COVID countermeasures already led the Biden administration to pause testing and treatment for the uninsured and warn there could be more cutbacks in the U.S. pandemic response.

  • COVID funding is just one part of Democrats' health care ambitions this spring. Lawmakers still are weighing a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill containing core components of Biden’s social policy agenda ahead of the midterm elections.
  • That would likely include drug pricing legislation and an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies.
  • "This is not re-creating the wheel; the legislation is largely done. It is more about re-branding and packaging the wheel into an inflation-fighting, deficit reduction panacea," Cowen analysts wrote last week in a policy outlook.

Our thought bubble: Recent increases in reported COVID cases, without corresponding hospitalizations and deaths, likely won't change the status quo, or move pandemic funding up on the priority list.

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