(The Hill) – Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she’s advised the Biden administration to seek tens of billions of dollars more in emergency COVID-19 relief, suggesting it will take more than $40 billion to meet the testing, vaccine and therapeutic needs of the U.S. and the larger global community.
President Biden had initially asked Congress for $22.5 billion in new funding to fight the ongoing pandemic — a figure that was whittled down to $15.6 billion in the face of Republican opposition on Capitol Hill.
Pelosi on Thursday said that even the larger $22.5 billion figure was too small, arguing it would provide relief only through the early part of the summer before Congress would need to approve more.
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“I think they should be double what they asked for, because even when they were asking for like 20-some [billion dollars] it was only going to get us to June,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.
The comments came shortly after Pelosi and other Democratic leaders huddled in the Capitol with the Biden administration’s top health officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist.
In seeking $22.5 billion for COVID-19 relief earlier this month, the administration had said it would cover the “immediate needs” of the pandemic response “over the next few months.”
The request proposed that a large bulk of the funding — $18.25 billion — would go to Becerra’s agency, while the remaining $4.25 billion would provide help abroad through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
Republicans balked at the figure, saying it was both too high and needed to be paid for by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Bipartisan negotiators came to agreement on the $15.6 billion figure, which was fully offset.
The proposal hit a brick wall in the House last week, however, when rank-and-file Democrats revolted over one of the provisions to pay for it, which would have clawed back more than $7 billion from state COVID-19 funds allocated last March as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
The opposition forced Pelosi to yank the COVID-19 funding from the larger spending package, and return to the drawing board in search of another source of offset funding.
Pelosi, who was reportedly furious with the Democratic critics, said Thursday that whatever bill emerges will be fully paid for — whatever the ultimate cost.
“What I’ve said to the administration is … you must ask for more. Because we need more, and you can’t expect money, this [bill], to turn around just like that because the legislative process takes time,” she said. “We want it to be bipartisan; we need it to be paid for. And so let’s just go for a bigger chunk.”
Pelosi said on Monday she hoped to vote this week on more funding, but a senior Democratic aide said Thursday that negotiators won’t meet that timeline, as the House is still working to reach agreement with the Senate on acceptable offsets.
The Speaker suggested she wants to move quickly.
“I think we have to get on with it,” she said.
Pelosi’s press conference came just hours after she dined with Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on Wednesday evening. Shortly afterwards, Martin tested positive for COVID-19 — a development that’s sparked some concern in the Capitol since Pelosi is hosting Biden on Thursday afternoon for the annual luncheon honoring St. Patrick’s Day.
Pelosi dismissed those concerns, saying she’s tested “almost every day.”
— Peter Sullivan contributed to this report