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Senate negotiators reach $10 billion COVID funding deal, without global vaccine funds

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Monday announced a $10 billion deal to fund COVID-19 treatments, vaccines, and related domestic tools to fight the pandemic. But the deal, lower than the $22.5 billion requested by the White House, doesn't contain funds for helping other countries fight the pandemic, slightly complicating the deal's passage through the Democratic-controlled House. 

Romney, the top GOP negotiator, said the package would address America's "urgent COVID needs" and highlighted that it "will not cost the American people a single additional dollar," since the funds were repurposed from previous COVID-19 relief packages. Schumer, the lead Democratic bargainer, said that "while we were unable to reach an agreement on international aid in this new agreement, many Democrats and Republicans are committed to pursuing a second supplemental later this spring."

The White House, which had warned the federal government was running out of funds for vaccines and treatments, backed the compromise deal. "Every dollar we requested is essential," said Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "But time is of the essence. We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs."

Republican negotiators over the weekend couldn't agree on a unified position on the international aid, with some insisting it be tied to President Biden dropping his plan to halt pandemic border rules, Politico reports. Democratic negotiators agreed to drop the funding to get the domestic funds on the move, but they called it penny-wise, pound-foolish. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said it was a "grave mistake" and "fiscally foolish" to not send tens of millions of unused U.S. vaccines aboard. "We know that the virus is going to mutate much more effectively in large bodies of unvaccinated people," said Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Global Vaccination Caucus, and mutations travel around the world.