The event preview touts the need for new investments in order to provide tests, treatments, and vaccines across the world and to prepare for the next pandemic. Yet Biden for weeks has been unable to push a new round of domestic funding through Congress.
“Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die needlessly,” Biden said Monday. “We will lose our place in line for America to order new COVID treatments and vaccines in the fall, including next-generation vaccines under development.”
Biden asked Congress to authorize $22.5 billion for COVID-19 in March, a figure that was whittled down to $10 billion in the Senate before being tabled altogether.
Biden previously tried to tie COVID-19 funding to Ukraine aid, but resistance from both parties led to their decoupling. The Ukraine aid legislation passed the House and now sits before the Senate.
“We have put out an entire playbook to address the pandemic to help — a preparedness plan to ensure Americans are protected and that we stay on the front foot in our fight against COVID,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier this week. “If we do not take action, we know that the virus is going to continue to evolve. And without us staying vigilant and prepared — like not having access to lifesaving vaccines, testing, therapeutics — it has the ability to upend our lives.”
The United States is co-hosting the summit with Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal. Joining the virtual conference will be heavy hitters including Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank, along with global government representatives.
The summit touts lofty goals, such as preparing for the next pandemic, getting vaccines and treatments to high-risk populations, and preventing a future health catastrophe. To all of these points, the preview mentions the need for funding, investment, and resources. The U.S. has called on the leaders of governments, civil society, businesses, and philanthropies to “make significant new commitments.”
But at home, Republicans have balked at pandemic funding since Biden took office, unanimously opposing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan last March and continuing their resistance this year. Republicans’ objections include what they say is a lack of transparency regarding previously approved dollars, while some in the party have tried to tie COVID-19 funding to southern border security.
Polls show that most people may be ready to embrace the Republican stance. In an Axios-Ipsos poll from April, fewer than 1 in 10 people described COVID-19 as a crisis. About 75% called it a manageable problem, and 17% said it’s no problem at all.
Despite this, Senate Republicans are playing with fire, argues Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
“If there’s another big resurgence of COVID in the fall, the president will be in perfect position to say ‘I told you so’ right before the midterms,” he said. But for now, Bannon admits that Biden will not be able to secure new funding in the face of united GOP opposition.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s chief medical adviser, Anand Parekh, agrees that Congress may live to regret its lack of action, saying global health is U.S. health.
To date, the U.S. has been a global leader in fighting the disease and has committed to providing 1.2 billion doses of vaccines to 115 other countries, more than four times as much as the next closest donor.
“[The summit] reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to continue to push the global response forward, including by securing funding from Congress, because the virus is not waiting for Congress to act,” reads the event preview. “It’s critical for Congress to act with the urgency that a once-in-a-generation pandemic warrants.”
Another point of contention is the still-unresolved issue of how the pandemic started. Biden has said he wants Chinese officials to be more transparent with investigations into the origins of the disease, but some have criticized his approach as being too soft.
“The Biden administration doesn’t even know how this pandemic started, and now President Biden wants to think about the next one, talking as if it’s inevitable,” said Tea Party Patriots Chairwoman Jenny Beth Martin. “Rather than appropriate another huge pile of money, isn’t it about time we gave the U.S. taxpayer a break? We know that one of the causes of the worst inflation in 41 years is the exorbitant spending of the last two years. If President Biden is serious about getting inflation under control and the economy back on track, he can start by reining in this unnecessary government spending.”