Senate expected to leave for recess without passing $10B COVID package

UPDATE at 1:35 p.m. April 7

The Senate is expected to leave for a two-week recess on Thursday without passing a $10 billion deal on COVID-19 relief, despite wide bipartisan support on the package. 

The sticking point is whether Senate leadership will allow votes on a series of amendments to the package. 

"The reality is there is real support for the covid bill on both sides of the aisle and there need to be opportunities for amendment from both sides of the aisle," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told Fierce Healthcare on Thursday. "If [Majority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer won’t allow that happen then we will put the health of the American people in jeopardy because of politics."

Some Democrats agreed with Romney that there should allow amendment votes in order to move the full package out of the chamber.

"We shouldn’t be afraid to vote on amendments because covid aid is needed and we are elected to vote," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. "Even if it is a hard vote people could vote yes or no but we need the covid aid."

UPDATE at 12:08 p.m. April 6

A bipartisan $10 billion deal on COVID-19 relief could be delayed by several weeks as senators squabble over votes on potentially controversial amendments. 

Senate Democrats had hoped to get a vote on the relief deal by the end of this week, after which a two-week recess in the chamber will start. But there isn't a deal yet on what amendments will be voted on alongside consideration of the package, as Republicans want amendments on items that include immigration policy. 

A procedural vote on the package failed on Tuesday by 47 to 52. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of the lead negotiators of the package, said that he voted against the procedural vote since an amendment agreement amongst leadership is not in place. 

"The underlying bill from what I can tell is quite broadly supported in Republican caucus and Democratic caucus," he told reporters. 

Romney he wasn't sure if there is an urgency to get the deal done before the recess, 

"From our standpoint no but I don’t know how many vaccines we have or therapeutics we have. I would like to move as quickly as possible," he said. "These things have a normal life cycle and [I would] hate to be delayed by two weeks but that wouldn’t be the end of the world I hope."

The Senate has reached a bipartisan deal for $10 billion in COVID-19 relief that does not fully replenish funds for providers to get reimbursement for uninsured claims.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the deal Tuesday, but it does not include money for global vaccine aid and scant money to help providers get reimbursements for uninsured cOVI

“Putting in the work today to keep our nation prepared against new variants will make it less likely that we get caught off guard by a new variant down the line,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “So this is really essential to America’s well-being.”

Of the $10 billion, half of it will go toward Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) purchases for therapeutics to fight the virus, Schumer said. The remaining half

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters Tuesday that reimbursing providers isn't a priority for the remaining half, which will go towards testing and vaccine purchases.

"My understanding is most of the money will be dedicated to things we need to deploy now versus trying to reimburse providers," he said. "At this stage the Provider Relief Fund, which is essentially depleted, will still need a source of funding if we want to continue to help providers."

Schumer lamented that Senate Republicans did not agree to include $5 billion in COVID-19 global response efforts. 

“It’s not just the right thing to do to help struggling nations, though we certainly have an obligation to help,” he said. “It is also good for our country.”

It remains unclear how much help providers will get from the new deal. HHS cut off receiving uninsured claims for testing and treating COVID-19 on March 22. 

The deadline for providers to submit claims for vaccination administration for uninsured COVID-19 claims is Tuesday. 

Schumer said that he hopes the chamber will act quickly on the deal. The Senate is expected to leave for a two-week recess after Friday.

The $10 billion is a far cry from the $22.5 billion that the White House asked for earlier this year. That figure was cleaved to $15 billion, and Democrats had hoped to include it in a must-pass omnibus bill last month. 

However, the funding was removed from the omnibus after objections from Republicans, who called for it to be fully offset by cuts to other programs.

The latest bipartisan deal is offset by cuts to other unrelated COVID-19 programs.