WASHINGTON – At the weekly Republican leadership press
conference today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and
Related Agencies (Labor/HHS), said that Congress will work with the Trump
administration to ensure the right amount of funding is available to meet
coronavirus response needs.
As Labor/HHS chairman, Blunt created the
Infectious Disease Fund to give HHS the flexibility to immediately respond to
an infectious disease outbreak. At a Labor/HHS hearing Blunt chaired this morning, he questioned
HHS Secretary Alex Azar
about the administration’s use of the Infectious Disease Fund and its request
for $2.5 billion in additional funding to respond to the coronavirus.
Following are Blunt’s Remarks:
“Yesterday, the White House sent up a $2.5 billion
spending plan to respond to coronavirus. We had a hearing this morning with the
Secretary of HHS, there was a briefing of all senators before that.
“Couple points to make, one is, in the 2019
spending bill, for the first time we gave HHS an Infectious Disease Fund that
they have a lot of flexibility with --- $105 million. So that fund has not been
exhausted yet, but beginning to see when it might be. The secretary has some
transfer authority that would add another $136 million that the secretary can
use without Senate, or House, or Congressional action. So we’re almost at a
$250 million level of money immediately available.
“We don’t have all the time in the world, but I
think we do have time to look at what will be the right number. If $2.5 billion
is the right number, if the pay-fors for part of that are the right pay-fors.
Secretary Azar, this morning, and others from the White House, yesterday and
today, have assured me and have assured Chairman Shelby, and I think the House
leaders as well, and Senator Leahy, that they’re going to be working with us to
find that right number. We intend to do that.
in the near term, money is available to meet the immediate needs of beginning
to deal with this health challenge. And we’re going to work with the White
House, and we’ll decide the final number and we’ll decide the pay-fors and the
secretary this morning was very clear that they understand that that’s how this