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White House seeks $47 billion for covid, monkeypox, Ukraine and floods

The request sets the stage for a September showdown on Capitol Hill, where Republicans repeatedly have blocked Democrats’ attempts to pass more covid aid

President Biden speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Sept. 2. (Al Drago for The Washington Post)

The Biden administration on Friday asked Congress to approve more than $47 billion in new emergency funds this fall to combat the coronavirus, secure new monkeypox vaccines, bolster Ukraine’s defenses and respond to devastating floods in Kentucky.

The official request sets up a fierce fight on Capitol Hill, where warring Democrats and Republicans face a looming, end-of-September deadline by which they must fund the government — or risk a catastrophic shutdown weeks before the midterm elections.

Much of the new money the Biden administration seeks would boost the U.S. government’s public health programs. Federal officials long have warned that dwindling funds threaten their ability to respond to a crisis.

Targeting the coronavirus, the Biden administration proposed $22.4 billion, much of which would facilitate the purchase and development of next-generation vaccines and treatments. The money also would help restart programs that recently ran out of funds, including an initiative to provide free tests that the White House said it had to wind down this week after months of congressional inaction.

“While we have made tremendous progress in our ability to protect against and treat COVID-19, we must stay on our front foot,” said Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a letter sent to Congress on Friday. “Doing so requires additional resources, which is why today we are updating our previous funding request.”

The Biden administration also sought about $4.5 billion to respond to monkeypox, which could help the government purchase and distribute a two-shot inoculation that has been in short supply for months. The lack of availability already has forced the United States to change the way it distributes the vaccine, known as Jynneos, in a bid to arrest the spread of the virus.

Besides the new public health funds, the White House urged Congress to approve another $13.7 billion for Ukraine, which includes money for military equipment, intelligence gathering and economic assistance. And top Biden aides estimated they would need about $6.5 billion to respond to recent natural disasters, including the deadly floods in Kentucky and other previously unmet needs in states like Louisiana and California.

In each of those areas, the administration described its request as urgent. In Ukraine, for example, Young said in her letter to Congress that three-quarters of the aid lawmakers previously approved for the war-torn country had been “disbursed or committed.”

Still, the White House faces the prospect of a tough slog on Capitol Hill. While the two parties long have banded together to bolster Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, Republicans repeatedly have refused to vote for other emergency spending, including funds for public health.

GOP lawmakers see new covid aid in particular as wasteful after Congress already approved more than $5 trillion in response to the pandemic. They have insisted Democrats should finance any new package through other budget cuts or transfers — though Republicans have never made such demands about funding for Ukraine. The result has been a months-long stalemate in the Senate, since Democrats need the support of 10 Republicans to avert a filibuster and approve any package.

Speaking to reporters Friday, top administration aides emphasized that lawmakers had approved emergency requests under Democratic and Republican presidents alike without demanding they be offset by new revenue. A senior official, who briefed the press on the condition of anonymity, said Congress should “provide it that way again,” even as the source pointed out the White House has been open to holding talks with lawmakers on the contours of any spending agreement.

Any deal on overall spending must be struck by Sept. 30, or significant parts of the U.S. government would shut down. To that end, congressional Democrats and Republicans are expected to return to Washington next week and resume work on a short-term measure, known as a continuing resolution, that could fund the government past the election.

Jay Tilton, a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said Friday that the hope is to adopt a stopgap that covers federal operations into mid-December. That would give lawmakers more time to hammer out a longer-term arrangement that covers the 2023 fiscal year.

A continuing resolution largely would maintain federal spending at existing levels, though lawmakers are likely to battle over a series of policy exceptions that can add to agencies’ budgets or make other key changes to law. The White House outlined some of its preferences in a second, separate request it sent to Congress Friday, which called for new money and extended authorities to assist with Afghan resettlement — a major partisan flash point.

That request includes $590 million to ensure adequate resources for the new 988 suicide prevention hotline, for example, and $1.8 billion to provide proper care of unaccompanied children entering the United States.

“This Administration will continue to work with members of both parties in Congress to meet these critical needs for the American people, and we look forward to reaching a bipartisan funding agreement that advances national priorities in the coming fiscal year,” Young said in her letter.

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