Earlier this month, the White House put an updated request through for $22.4 billion to spend on vaccines, testing and therapeutics, among other things, as part of a short-term continuing resolution.
“This funding is vital to our ability to protect and build on the progress we’ve made,” wrote Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a blog post for the White House website on Sept. 2.
But this funding may now be in jeopardy after Biden’s remarks.
Asked if the pandemic is over, Biden replied that it is.
“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it … but the pandemic is over,” Biden told “60 Minutes” in a segment that aired Sunday.
Biden’s comments drew the attention of Republican lawmakers, who seized on the opportunity to question the need for additional COVID-19 funds.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told CNN.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who had helped negotiate a bipartisan $10 billion deal for COVID-19 money that failed to pass the Senate this past spring, told CNN he did not see a way through for any kind of pandemic-related funding with GOP support.
Even some Democrats seem uneasy over Biden’s comments.
“The variants are still out there. We are all hoping that it’s over [but] nobody is going to predict with certainty that it is. I’m not,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told ABC News Monday.
In any case, Durbin maintained the White House funding requests also have to do with preparing for future outbreaks.
“The president has asked in the past not just for pandemic funds for COVID-19 but to prepare for what might be next. And I think that’s always obvious and fair to do that,” he said. “Maybe that’s his approach to it, I’d have to ask him.”
Earlier this month, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters “the pandemic is not over,” and said the administration was in “ongoing talks” with lawmakers about getting more funding, stressing the importance of money in the nation’s fight against COVID-19.
“We are in a much better place because we’ve been able to respond effectively,” Jha said on Sept. 6. “Congress is aware that if we do not continue to fund the response, we can easily go backwards.”
For instance, the White House had to stop shipping free at-home test kits at the start of this month due to a lack of funding.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, on Monday told a fireside chat with the Center for Strategic and International Studies that while the country is “heading in the right direction,” there is still room for progress.
Fauci added the outbreak’s intensity remains “unacceptably high,” referencing the 400 deaths per day the U.S. is still experiencing, but said the overall picture is much improved compared with other stages in the pandemic when the U.S. averaged 3,000 deaths per day.
“We’re much better off now, ” Fauci said. “But we are not where we need to be if we are going to quote ‘live with the virus’ because we know we are not going to eradicate it.”
He also noted the fact that only 67.7% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 14, citing this metric as evidence of “lack of a uniform acceptance of the interventions that are available to us in this country.”
The White House appears to recognize that Biden’s comments could also further “complicate” the administration’s efforts to boost Americans this fall, according to Politico, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approving new boosters, which target newer omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
An unnamed senior White House official told Politico that while COVID-19 is no longer the top priority on the administration’s agenda, it’s “still a real challenge.”
“And if things go bad, it could go from being a problem to being the biggest issue again,” the official said.
The U.S. has been averaging 54,831 cases and 360 deaths daily over the past week, as of Sept. 18, according to the CDC.