House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled $15.6 billion in COVID-19 relief funding from a trillion-dollar omnibus spending measure Wednesday after Democrats revolted against the funding mechanism.
Rank-and-file members had objected to the bill clawing back unspent money from previously enacted relief legislation that had been earmarked to help states and businesses cope with the pandemic.
After hours of talks, Pelosi relented to lawmakers who were refusing to let the measure move forward unless the earlier funds their states were supposed to receive were protected.
“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Democratic Colleague” letter sent out Wednesday afternoon.
At a news conference, Pelosi told reporters that coronavirus funding would be dealt with in a separate bill that she hoped to put on the floor later Wednesday.
The standoff delayed an expected House vote on the $1.5 trillion bill, which would fund the government through Sept. 30, as well as a stopgap measure that would keep funding at current levels through March 15 — allowing Congress extra time to approve the larger bill and send it to President Biden without any pause in funding.
Initially, the White House requested that $22.5 billion be included in the spending agreement for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatment — far more than was outlaid in the compromise unveiled early Wednesday.
The spending measure includes $13.6 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine as well as $730 billion for domestic programs and $782 billion in defense spending.
Additionally, the bill includes funds for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to try to reduce the massive backlog of people crossing into the US, and distributes billions of dollars initially provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last year for road, rail and airport projects.
Congress has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to avert a government shutdown.