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Congress Wants at Least $6 Billion to Fight Coronavirus

Yuval Rosenberg

House and Senate appropriators are discussing an emergency funding package of $6 billion to $8 billion to fight the spread of the coronavirus and hope to have the legislation ready for a House vote as soon as the middle of next week, according to multiple reports.

The Trump administration had requested $1.25 billion in new funding, but President Trump said at his Wednesday evening news conference that he would accept whatever amount Congress determined was appropriate.

The White House said Friday it expects Congress will send the president a funding package in the next two weeks. Russell Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, indicated Friday that federal agencies have enough money to combat the coronavirus into April, but that the supplemental funding would be needed soon, according to The Hill.

Fed chairman opens door to rate cut: As the stock market continued its plunge on Friday to end Wall Street’s worst week since the financial crisis in 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a statement that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy “remain strong” but that “the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity.” Powell said that the Federal Reserve is poised to act if necessary. “The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

Experts question Trump’s claims on federal staffing: President Trump and his administration have downplayed the risk of the coronavirus and pushed back against criticism that they have made it harder to combat the threat by disbanding two permanent groups created by President Obama at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to handle the 2014 Ebola outbreak and epidemic preparedness. The number of permanent CDC employees declined about 5% between December 2016 and March 2019, according to government data cited by The Washington Post.

In response to a question about his administration’s proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, President Trump said Wednesday that the money and staff levels can be ramped up quickly as needed. “I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” he said. “When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

The Post reports that it’s not so easy. “Former federal officials and public-health experts argue that an effective response to an epidemiological crisis demands sustained planning and investment,” Beth Reinhard, Emma Brown and Neena Satija write.

  • Luring specialists back from other jobs to help with a temporary federal response to a disease outbreak isn’t quite realistic, Cyrus Shahpar, a doctor formerly at the CDC who now works at a nonprofit, told the Post. “They have stable jobs with retirement plans,” he said. “They are not going to quit their job at the university or quit their job in the local government to go join the U.S. federal government for six months because of coronavirus. It doesn't work like that.”

  • Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security provided a useful analogy: “You build a fire department ahead of time. You don’t wait for a fire,” he said. “There is an underappreciation for the amount of time and resources required to build a prepared system.”

  • Former USAID official Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama administration, told the Post, “What we see with financing for outbreak preparedness is this cycle of panic and neglect. What the president seemed to say is that’s fine. It's not fine.”

The White House and CDC did not respond to the Post’s interview requests.

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