The Senate agreed to a $10 billion package to fund the Biden administration’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hailed by negotiators as a great success and the administration declared that it would allow vital COVID service to continue.
Yet, as with so much else that passes for “success” in this fractured and fractious political environment, the bill was in fact a stunning failure — in this case, representing a disaster for the basic principles of global pandemic response.
President Biden had initially requested over $22 billion in funding — for ongoing testing and vaccines, for medical research, and, crucially, for overseas aid, to help poorer countries ramp up their testing and vaccine regimens. In the original proposal, $5Billion was dedicated to international response.
Since 2020, the pandemic has raged in poorer countries such as India, but the exact scale of its carnage has often been underplayed by those countries’ governments. India claims it has lost approximately 500,000 people to the disease. However, this week the World Health Organization estimated that the true number was closer to 4 million. Without accurate public data, it is difficult to plan appropriate responses to the pandemic in those affected countries. And without effective interventions the risk of new, potentially deadly variants emerging every day grows.
Most Americans, and the vast majority of elderly Americans, have had at least two shots against COVID, with many having also received their boosters (and many of those who aren’t vaccinated have made a conscious choice not to be, despite the widespread availability of free vaccines). Contrary to this, in poorer countries, vaccination rates are perilously low and often not by choice. Only about 5% of the world’s population will be vaccinated by 2022. 10 percent of AfricansThey received both the original course and the booster shots. Only 1 in 20 people in many countries, including Mali, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Cameroon had received their first vaccine dose. According to The New York Times global trackerIn Uganda, 1 in 1,000 people have received boosters. Only 3 per cent of Pakistanis have received their boosters. Only 2.2 percent have been boosted. The list goes on.
These numbers are alarming and point to the need for large international investments and assistance in providing vaccinations to poor countries and in helping them to get arms.
Wealthy countries that invested large sums in mRNA vaccinations have been able to kick-start their economies and restore relative normalcy to residents after months of lockdowns. They also managed to keep their health systems afloat during recent surges. With each new surge, however, the health systems of poorer countries are at risk. The U.S., U.K. and other powerful countries are pretending that the pandemic is over. However, for the poorer nations, who are still largely unvaccinated 30 months after the outbreak, it is possible that the worst days are yet to come.
The Senate negotiations ended with Sen. Mitt Romney (R. Utah) serving as the GOP negotiator. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that a deal was reached that made available much less than half of the initial amount requested and contained exactly what was required. zero dollarsInternational COVID Responses. If that’s a “success,” God only knows what a Schumer failure would look like.
For the past 15 month, the GOP and a handful more conservative Democratic senators has obstructed almost every major spending initiative of the Biden administration. The White House and its Senate allies have repeatedly caved to pressure, arguing that a little is better than none. It’s been a losing strategy politically: Witness the continual compromising around the Build Back Better Act, and the ultimate failure to secure Any It is difficult to pass legislation on this front. Just look at the string of failures in implementing meaningful climate change policies. It has also proved to be a losing strategy in terms public opinion. Biden’s collapsing poll ratingsThe perception among younger, more idealistic voters and the general sense that the administration is wasting its political capital rather then fighting for what it believes in, is especially evident among younger voters.
Another example of the increasing ineffectiveness and incompetence of an administration that has lost the ability to make the Senate act on common-sense issues is what happened April 4. It’s not as if $5 billion in international COVID assistance would break the U.S. economy: that’s about what the country spends on the military in two days. It’s about $268 billion Less More than what Elon Musk, the U.S.’s richest individual, is worth. Musk and other super-rich Americans could pay a small tax increase to fund $5 billion. It’s about 1/20 the average amount Americans spend on their pets annually. It’s less than a third of what Medicare spends on insulin each year.
If the political will were there, it’s inconceivable that funds wouldn’t have been easily found to cover international vaccine efforts. Washington’s political goodwill is at a critical low these days.
As if to prove the point that this was less to do with fiscal responsibility and more to do with political gamesmanship, a day after the much-heralded “bipartisan” agreement was reached, the GOP began pushing to tack on even more cost-cutting and anti-asylum seeker amendments, and the Senate moved further away from actually passing the dealThe agreement reached by its negotiators was not finalized until the previous day. By April 8, Schumer had accepted that the legislation wouldn’t be passed before the Senate recessed for Easter and announced that no vote would be held until at least April 25.
So much for Biden and Schumer’s vaunted negotiating skills. The story of the U.S.’s disengagement with the international COVID response efforts is a saga of failure and abandonment, pure and simple.
Every time Schumer trumpets a “bipartisan” agreement, the result is something that progressive Democrats hate and that the GOP views as simply a launch pad to further extremes. It’s past time for Schumer to actually fight for important political values and vital societal investments. If he can’t, or won’t, then he is simply whistling in the wind.