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White House seeks more than $47 billion in emergency covid, Ukraine aid

The administration said it expects to ask Congress for additional money to respond to recent natural disasters

The sun sets on the Capitol dome on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The White House on Tuesday asked Congress to approve $47.7 billion in new emergency aid to combat the coronavirus and augment Ukraine’s defenses, hoping to overcome the staunch Republican resistance that has scuttled such requests in the past.

The official request comes as Democrats and Republicans toiled behind the scenes in the hopes of striking a broader spending deal before Dec. 16, the date at which federal funds are set to run dry — triggering a government shutdown.

To address a potential pandemic surge this winter, the White House urged Congress to approve about $9.25 billion, which would help ensure access to vaccines and treatments while enabling new research into long covid, according to administration officials, who briefed reporters only on condition of anonymity.

Without the aid, the officials warned there could be “needless infections and deaths” if cases spike and supplies dwindle. The amount is not even half as much as the White House sought in September, however, a change that aides attributed to the evolving nature of both the pandemic and the political climate on Capitol Hill.

To assist Ukraine, meanwhile, the White House called for $37.7 billion, which would largely provide military equipment to the war-torn country while replenishing the Defense Department’s own stocks. Administration officials said three-quarters of the funds approved by Congress to date have been disbursed, and the new request could address Ukraine’s needs through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, 2023.

In a letter to Congress which accompanied the formal request, the Biden administration also urged lawmakers to approve new funds to help Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country decimated by recent natural disasters. But Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote that the government does not yet have an estimate of the total need.

Instead, Young said the White House would “share additional details” as soon as possible, meaning the total price tag of its request — now at $47 billion — stands to rise.

“The American people rightly expect their leaders to come together and deliver on these priorities, and I urge the Congress to address them as part of a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement in the weeks ahead,” she added.

With election unsettled, Congress braces for new spending showdowns

The request amounts to one final attempt by the Biden administration to secure spending boosts it sees as essential, since Republicans are expected to win control of the House once the remaining ballots from last Tuesday’s elections have been counted. GOP lawmakers have made no secret of their opposition, denying Democrats repeatedly from delivering the money over the past two years.

Some Republicans have sounded fiscal concerns about approving new coronavirus spending, even as the Biden administration has warned about the dangers of rationing aid. Others, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is seeking election as House speaker if the GOP controls the chamber, have expressed a growing sense of unease about fueling the conflict in Ukraine, despite Democrats’ warnings that a failure to support the war-torn country would only embolden Russian invaders.

For now, top Democratic and Republican negotiators on Tuesday continued haggling in pursuit of an agreement that would fund the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year. Both sides have insisted they are making progress on the package, known in congressional parlance as an omnibus, and hope to bring it to a vote next month.

The four leading congressional appropriators — Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas), and Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) — muscled through partisan division to strike such a bargain last year. But Democrats and Republicans even then found themselves at an impasse over additional money sought by the Biden administration to address pressing public health, economic and geopolitical concerns.

“We have to get the omnibus done by December 16. We will look at Ukraine, we will be looking at two or three other efforts, disaster assistance, but all of that is going to be forthcoming,” Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.