GOP lawmakers throw cold water on White House's latest $26B COVID, monkeypox ask

Updated at 11:00 a.m. on Sept. 8.

Republican lawmakers are pushing back on the Biden administration's request for an additional $26 billion in COVID-19 and monkeypox funding, the AP, Politico and other news sources reported. 

The White House's ask came as Congress begins negotiations for a short-term funding bill needed to avoid a shutdown at the end of the month.

In comments to reporters, conservatives said their disapproval of additional pandemic spending was tied to inflation and concerns about how prior funds were used. 

“The problem is they want to keep spending more money and throw more gasoline on the inflation fire,” Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the AP. “I think that’s a bad idea.”

The lawmakers said that the White House should instead repurpose funds left over from earlier pandemic asks and begin transitioning the costs for certain efforts, such as vaccines, to the private sector or general public. 

“There’s really no reason that the government should be paying for all of that,” Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo) told the AP. 

Other recent spending initiatives outside of healthcare and public health also play a role in the senators' position.

“They do $1.9 trillion in March of last year, which ignited inflation, and now they just write off — I think illegally — student loans for another $300 billion?” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), told Politico. “And now they’re coming back for more. At some point, you’ve got to tell the alcoholic no.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently warned that the distributions of free COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will likely run out of steam by January 2023 without additional funds.

The Biden administration is asking Congress on Sept. 2 to pass a short-term continuing resolution that includes billions of dollars for COVID-19 and monkeypox alongside other “critical needs.”

Congress has a month to go before the end of the government’s 2022 fiscal year, at which point it would need to pass a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown and give the chambers more time to consider the full-year budget.  

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young wrote Friday that the administration has outlined priorities that will require substantial financial support during the first quarter of the upcoming fiscal year.

Among these is the administration’s long-standing ask for supplemental COVID-19 funding, which to date has not been supported by congressional Republications.

The new request of $22.4 billion would cover “immediate short-term domestic needs” such as the provision of COVID-19 tests, investments into research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics, global COVID-19 response support and other preparations for future variants, Young wrote.

“While we have made tremendous progress in our ability to protect against and treat COVID-19, we must stay on our front foot,” she said. “Doing so requires additional resources.”

The White House supported its request by pointing to the “difficult trade-offs” it’s already made, such as an unreplenished national supply of at-home tests and suspension of the free mail-order test program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also recently warned that the distributions of free COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will likely run out of steam by January 2023 without additional funds.

Also listed in the request was $3.9 billion to bolster the monkeypox response effort. This money would go toward domestic vaccination, testing, treatment and support programs, while another $600 million would be used to limit the disease’s global spread.

The federal government’s monkeypox response has so far been defined by vaccine supply shortages. The administration worked to secure highly demanded shots from manufacturers and recently unveiled a fractional dosing strategy intended to stretch out the supply, albeit with mixed results.

“While we have accelerated the distribution of hundreds of thousands of vaccines, made testing more available and expanded access to tens of thousands of courses of treatment to reach the highest-risk population, we cannot let up until we end the current outbreak and are prepared for future monkeypox or smallpox outbreaks,” Young said.

OMB’s public health funding requests were accompanied by multi-billion-dollar asks regarding the Ukraine-Russia conflict and recovery from natural disaster events.