Moderate Democrats Want Vaccine Funds Before Biden Stimulus
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is under pressure from moderate Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass any stimulus bill along party lines, to split a vaccination-funding package from President Joe Biden’s broader Covid-19 relief bill.
The Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats wrote in a letter to Pelosi released Thursday that the current plan to pass the administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill through a special budget process could take “months.” But funding for the patchy U.S. vaccination effort is needed right away, they argued.
“Vaccine distribution is a hot mess left by the Trump administration and fixing it now is something that the Biden administration and Democrats can do quickly to show we are delivering for the American people,” Representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida, one of the Blue Dog co-chairs, said in an interview.
The letter was signed by Murphy and her fellow co-chairs Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona.
In the closely divided House, Pelosi can afford to lose no more than four votes on a party-line vote if all members are voting. Pelosi’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
“Our preferred legislative approach is to swiftly vote on the portion of the administration’s proposal focused on vaccine development and distribution,” the group told Pelosi in the letter. “Other larger, complementary elements of the proposed package” could move as quickly as possible on a separate track, they wrote.
The Blue Dogs argue that the vaccine funds could easily pass Congress even as work continues on the stimulus measure. Murphy said that if it couldn’t pass by unanimous consent, the House should change its schedule to vote on it as soon as possible. The chamber is slated to leave town Friday, staying out until Feb. 23.
“It is hard for us to understand why our constituents and our states should have to wait until March or even April for us to deliver essential support for our nation’s vaccination efforts, if we have the votes to pass a standalone bill this month,” the Blue Dog members said in their letter.
Maine Democrat Jared Golden, a member of the Blue Dogs, said he voted against the budget on Wednesday because of the lack of a separate vaccine bill.
The action in coming days may be closing soon, with the Senate likely to be tied up with former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial for some time starting next week.
Biden proposed $160 billion in funding for vaccines, testing and other direct Covid-19 measures. Ten Republican senators put the same amount in their $618 billion counter-offer to the White House in recent days.
The Biden administration has rejected the idea of breaking up the Biden proposal into component parts, however. With the White House urging quick action, congressional Democratic leaders have been pursing the fast-track legislative process known as reconciliation that can forgo GOP support.
The House on Wednesday passed a budget resolution to jump start the process of passing a stimulus bill without Republicans. The Senate as soon as Thursday evening is expected to pass its version. A bill adhering to instructions in the budget and complying with relevant Senate rules can pass the upper chamber with just 50 votes plus the tie-breaker of Vice President Kamala Harris.