Congress skips town without passing Covid relief

By Lauren Fox, CNN

Congress has again launched a massive Covid-19 relief package, leaving President Joe Biden’s administration in limbo over one of its top demands of Congress this spring.

Lawmakers left Washington on Thursday for a two-week break without passing the massive $10 billion deal, the second time Congress has failed to act on what the president has made clear is critical funding.

“Congress needs to act now,” Biden pleaded last week. “The consequences of inaction are serious.”

This time, the deadlock came when Republicans demanded a vote on an immigration amendment to restore Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that allowed immigrants to be immediately returned to their home countries. citing a public health emergency. Democrats opposed, lambasting Republicans for what they called an eleventh-hour demand in a negotiation they thought was final.

But the fight against immigration is just the latest in a series of stumbles Congress has had in trying to respond to an unpredictable and ever-changing virus.

The Biden administration announced last week that it plans to bring Title 42 back in May, but the decision was lambasted by Republicans and Democrats. Still, Democratic leaders say a vote now on an amendment would violate the deal they thought they struck with Republicans. And while a number of Democrats have said they would support stand-alone legislation restoring Title 42 as long as a public health emergency exists in other parts of the government, even members who opposed the action of Biden say they don’t want to have the debate under Covid funding.

“We had a bipartisan deal and unfortunately, due to a foreign issue, we won’t be able to get the 10 Republican votes we need to pass it,” said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

It’s the second time a tentative deal on a Covid relief package has been scuttled in just over a month. In March, a $15.6 billion package that had been brokered by House and Senate leaders fell apart when a group of House Democrats rioted against it over the way he had been paid. A few weeks later, another hard-fought deal was brokered, but it was smaller, totaling just $10 billion instead of nearly $16 billion.

“When they blew this deal up, you try to do it as a stand-alone bill, and it gets even more complicated,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip. “There are a lot of issues around it now. … We’ll see where it goes from here.

The standoff comes as Covid is still a reality on Capitol Hill. This week alone, nearly a dozen members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have tested positive for the virus. The $10 billion package would go largely to preparing the United States for future outbreaks and making investments in testing, treatment and therapeutics.

It’s still possible that senators could work out a solution after the Easter recess, but it’s not clear that the GOP’s 10 votes will materialize without a vote on the immigration amendment. And GOP senators point out that the longer the bill drags on, the harder it can be to cross the finish line.

“Ten billion dollars is a lot of money,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. “I think it’s reasonable to say, ‘Let’s take a handful of amendments from each side.’ “

Asked if he’s worried the bill will never happen now that lawmakers are away for vacation, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, “It’s never long.”

“I think we have to deal with it, and I think we can figure out how to deal with it, but the title 42 announcement was a real problem,” he said.

Blunt proposed that the administration’s timing of rescinding Title 42, which essentially signaled that there was no longer a public health crisis at the border, jeopardized the fate of the bill.

“There may have been an amendment problem, but not an amendment that Democrats considered kryptonite,” he said.

Democrats insist that eventually Covid relief will pass. It may take a little time to sort out the details.

“It will pass,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. “We play a little Russian roulette here. What if the virus increases? I don’t know what the current inventory of supplies is? »

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CNN’s Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.