COVID-fighting programs at risk due to debt disagreements

Republicans want to cut costs promised to help fight COVID now that the pandemic is over, but it's only a fraction of the $31.4 trillion debt limit.
Posted at 4:09 PM, May 24, 2023

The public health emergency is over, but COVID is not gone. And two programs that could help fight the virus in the future are at risk of losing their funding. 

Right now, $5 billion is dedicated to a program developing future COVID vaccines and treatments. Another $1 billion is going toward giving free vaccines to the uninsured. But now those programs are caught in the middle of debt ceiling negotiations. 

There were six pieces of legislation that lawmakers passed following COVID-19, totaling more than $4.6 trillion. That's still just a fraction of the $31.4 trillion debt limit that lawmakers are set to hit on June 1, as Secretary Treasury Janet Yellen has predicted. 

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the two programs in question could represent $30 billion over the next decade — money that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wants to claw back. The Republican argument is that the pandemic is over, therefore the financial liquidity that's being injected into state and local governments around the country to deal with the pandemic no longer has to be spent.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy: Debt negotiators aim to finalize deal at White House

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s message on the debt limit deal remained clear: The U.S. needs to spend less than it did last year.


But President Biden and the Democrats disagree, saying that state and local governments have already factored the funds into their economic planning and forecasts, in a very tight economy. 

It's really easy to look at this type of money and to keep it at a top line view. But here's how this money is impacting local communities around the country at local and state municipalities on a very tangible level. Some of the money has been forecast to go to schools, for example, that have looked to modernize, to add in Wi-Fi hotspots. It's also going into hospitals around the country that are looking to modernize, that are looking to have more cash on hand to invest into their facilities. And that's a very real economic cost that, again, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says is worth $30 billion over the next decade. 

Either way, sources on both sides say this has emerged as a key flash point in the debt ceiling drama as that clock ticks down to June 1.