House passes $8.3 billion total coronavirus response package

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Exterior view of the US Capitol building, Washington DC, January 18, 2017.

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The House voted on Wednesday to pass a sweeping spending package to dedicate billions of dollars to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak as lawmakers scramble to combat the spread of the disease.

The measure will next need to be taken up by the Senate. The White House is expected to back the deal.

The agreement provides $7.8 billion in appropriations to address the outbreak of coronavirus as well as an additional $500 million to fund a telehealth program in an effort to help expand access to health services for seniors.

The legislation was formally unveiled on Wednesday afternoon with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer promising a vote later in the day.

Lawmakers have been meeting for days to hammer out a package to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The total funding package of $8.3 billion is an amount far higher than the $2.5 billion White House request. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed $8.5 billion to deal with the outbreak last week.

The emergency funding package will include over $3 billion to help fund research and development for vaccines as well as diagnostic tests and therapeutic responses to coronavirus.

It will also include $2.2 billion to be used for efforts related to prevention, preparedness and response to the spread of coronavirus, of which $950 million will go to supporting state and local health agencies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday that the House would “move swiftly to pass this vital coronavirus emergency response package.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated on Wednesday that the aim is to pass the emergency funding bill this week.

“Our goal would be to do it this week, if we get cooperation,” McConnell said, shortly after a broad agreement was reached.

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said he anticipates some budget-conscious Republicans will vote against the package because of its large price tag, but he didn’t indicate who might oppose it.

“Not everyone will vote for the bill. But they would not have voted for it at $2.2 billion either,” Blunt said, referring to the much smaller original supplemental request from the White House.

GOP Whip John Thune said if some members push for procedural votes because they have concerns with the bill, it could slow things down. But the South Dakota Republican was hopeful the Senate would pass it “fairly quickly.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, who directed talks for Senate Republicans, was more hopeful. He repeatedly predicted the bill would pass Thursday.

Two congressmen voted against the funding: Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado.

Buck said President Donald Trump initially asked for $2.5 billion in funding.

“We’ve known about the severity of the coronavirus for months. Instead of considering the President’s thoughtful response, the Democrats pulled together a bloated spending package overnight,” Buck said via Twitter.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a quote from Rep. Biggs that was attributed to Rep. Buck.

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