Biden Seeks to Protect Covid Funding in Debit Crisis

24.05.2023 - The administration of US president Joe Biden is said to be wrangling with the Republican opposition in Congress to preserve funding for key components of the federal coronavirus response as the two sides fight over raising the debt ceiling to avert a government shutdown.

US reports say administration officials are seeking to protect roughly $5 billion in funding for a program to develop the next generation of coronavirus vaccines and treatment as well as preserving funds exceeding $1 billion in an initiative to offer free coronavirus shots.

The funds Biden wants to deploy have already been approved by Congress, but may now be in jeopardy as Republicans push for budget cuts as a condition for raising the debt limit.

According to the newspaper New York Times, as one component of a debt limit deal, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives want to reclaim tens of billions of dollars in unspent funds from previously approved Covid-19 relief legislation.

During the years of the pandemic, elements of the Republican-led state and federal governments sought to play down the threat of the coronavirus, disparaged vaccination and promoted alternative but unproven remedies such as hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. 

The administration of Donald Trump is credited, however, with creating Operation Warp Speed, which awarded funding to companies developing Covid vaccines.

CDC director will step down on June 30

Meanwhile, Rochelle Walensky, who guided the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through the pandemic, has announced her departure from the agency almost simultaneously with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration that Covid-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency.

In a letter to Biden, Walensky said she had “mixed feelings” about her decision, while the nation is at a moment of transition as emergency declarations come to an end. Her tenure ends on Jun. 30.

The director’s time at the health organization is regarded as difficult. Government insiders said she struggled with an unwieldy leadership structure at the Department of Health and Human Services, to which the Atlanta-based health agency belongs.

During the pandemic, the CDC was often criticized as providing confusing or contradictory advice. But some noted that this was the case for US authorities generally.

Biden is facing major vacancies in his Covid-19 response team with White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha departing at the end of this month, as well as other key officials, including White House adviser on the global response, Nahid Bhadeli. A new White House pandemic office reportedly has no leader or staff.

Author: Dede Willimas, Freelance Journalist