President Donald Trump is expected on Friday to sign into law an $8.3 billion emergency bill to help fight the coronavirus outbreak after it sailed through the U.S. Senate in a rare display of bipartisanship.
The 96-1 vote in the Senate to approve the package on Thursday followed a 415-2 vote for passage in the House the previous day. Lawmakers said putting politics aside finally provided the breakthrough they needed to reach a deal.
“This should not be about politics, this is about doing our jobs to protect the American people from a potential pandemic,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a news release. “We worked together to craft an aggressive and comprehensive response that provides the resources the experts say they need to combat this crisis.”
The bill far exceeds the $1.25 billion Trump requested last week in funding to combat the coronavirus, with nearly $6.5 billion being allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under the bill, the Trump administration would have to replace the $136 million it has transferred from accounts intended for performing health research, helping people with substance abuse and subsidizing energy bills for households that can’t afford to cover utility costs. It would also be barred from using the new money for anything besides combating the coronavirus or other infectious diseases.
“None of this is going to go to a border wall,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) quipped to reporters.
As NPR reports, the funding agreement came as “fears are rising of coronavirus spreading in the United States, with reports of more than 80 related infections across the country and 11 deaths.”
“The American people are counting on our government for a fully-funded, coordinated, and comprehensive government-wide response to the coronavirus,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said.
Shelby also said lawmakers from both parties will be ready to pass a follow-on bill if the funding starts to seem insufficient.
SAUL LOEB / AFP