A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on Congress to immediately approve federal funds to ramp up distribution and administration of vaccines, without waiting for negotiations on a broader coronavirus relief package to finish.
On Thursday, the 56-member Problem Solvers Caucus — which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans — endorsed the $160 billion package, which would devote an immediate additional $50 billion to testing and $20 billion to a national vaccine program in partnership with states, tribes and territories.
The plan would also provide another $30 billion for disaster relief, $5 billion in additional personal protective equipment for first responders, doctors and dentists and $15 billion to restock the strategic national stockpile. An additional $5 billion would go toward the Defense Production Act, which gives the president the authority to speed up domestic production of critical resources, and $35 billion would be used for aid to health providers, with 20% specifically set aside for rural hospitals.
Co-chairman Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, said he'll continue to support using the budget reconciliation process to pass a broader COVID-19 relief deal that includes direct checks for families, more unemployment insurance, funds for state and local governments and other Democratic priorities. But he said those issues should not stand in the way of immediate vaccine funds.
"I believe we should immediately address, without delay, the need for boosting vaccine distribution and testing in New Jersey and nationwide. We simply cannot afford to wait weeks upon weeks to get more vaccines out the door," he said.
His co-chair, New York Republican Tom Reed, echoed many other members who said they support the bipartisan efforts. But he also noted that "We simply do not have time to spare when the lives of the American people are at stake as new variants of the virus are emerging daily. For the sake of protecting the lives of our fellow Americans, we must unite and act now in support of vaccines."
Senate Democrats are currently working to craft components of President Biden's $1.9 trillion relief plan into legislation with the goal of passing it through Congress by early March to prevent a lapse in federal unemployment benefits. Both the House and Senate have crafted budget resolutions that will allow Democrats to use a process called reconciliation to pass a version of the administration's package without facing a filibuster in the Senate.
The Problem Solvers Caucus previously helped craft COVID-19 relief legislation framework, much of which was reflected in the $900 billion package that passed Congress in December. They were among the first groups on the Hill to receive a briefing from the administration on the president's plan in January.