WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of
the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human
Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS), spoke on the Senate
floor to discuss the coronavirus emergency funding bill, which is expected to
be introduced shortly. Blunt urged the House and Senate to quickly approve
emergency funding to ensure the government has the resources needed to continue
coronavirus response efforts.
Following are Excerpts of Blunt’s
“Mr. President, I want to talk for a few minutes
about where we are with the coronavirus response and the supplemental. I think
all senators have an opportunity to be updated again today.
“This is not a new place for us to be. This time
last year the Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee held
a hearing on emerging threats and, at that point, we were experiencing the
second largest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Antibiotic resistance was a global danger and there was a flu outbreak bigger
than we had seen in a long time.
“So one year later we're still fighting the Ebola
outbreak in the DRC and antibiotic resistance continues to be a global problem.
And according to Dr. Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the flu we're seeing this year is shaping up
to be one of the worst in decades. Several thousand Americans die every year
from the flu, usually at least 35,000, sometimes as high as 75,000.
“I think about 350,000
Americans have died from the flu in the last decade. We're now facing a new danger the COVID-19 danger.
That's the new coronavirus that we hadn't seen before. As we learned with
Ebola, patient zero, who doesn't know they even have this yet, can board a
plane or a cruise ship. They can be in another country, or in even another
continent, in a matter of hours. And this lesson is once again reinforced. This
is like all other diseases, it doesn't know any boundaries.
“We're no longer living in a world where our
health can be separated from the health of other countries. Last week the
number of new coronavirus infections outside of China outpaced those inside
China for the first time. Maybe the good news is China is beginning to see
something headed in a different direction, but the bad news is infections in
Iran and Italy and South Korea and Japan and other places. This has moved into
Europe now, and in South America a case was just announced in Brazil. But this
is kind of that moment, Mr. President, where we have some opportunity to do
everything we can to prepare for the worst, but we still have the option of
hoping for the best.
“A year ago we created for the first time, Mr.
President, an infectious disease fund. Our colleague in the House, Tom Cole,
one of the major proponents of this, to let the Health and Human Services
people have access to money immediately. Because of that, they had $105 million
that they wouldn't have previously had, to be able to spend immediately to help
contain this problem where it can be contained, to bring Americans back here,
particularly from China, to keep them in a known location for the 14 day
incubation period to see if anything happened. All of that was possible because
we'd given them the flexibility that they hadn't had before.
“The first line of defense funding has been there.
We're now moving toward a conclusion of what we can do to make more money
available for a vaccine. … We're going to be continuing to talk to Dr. Fauci
and his team about this. We're working with experts at what's called BARDA, the
Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to move those vaccines
“We've learned in the past through outbreaks of a
flu strain that we didn't have a vaccine for, of Ebola, of Zika, that what we
do to protect people in other countries winds up protecting people here.
“We have to be sure that we understand that a lot
of our fate in this has been determined, and will continue to be determined, by
what we do to first try to contain this virus, and secondly, to provide the
money to be sure that when it we do have an outbreak, which has already begun
in our country, that it's an outbreak that is really held at the lowest
possible level of people impacted. …
“I feel confident we're going to have the
resources to deal with this, I feel confident that this will be a problem that
will not impact more people than would usually be impacted by something like
the flu. But again, we need to prepare for the very worst, hope for the very
best. But our job right now is to prepare for the worst things that could
happen with having the funding available so that we don't have to go through a
couple of weeks again where an easy determination should have been reached. …
“We’re trying to come up with an amount of money,
it appears, that would get us through this entire incident with this virus, but
it's time to get that done. Hopefully, we'll see a bill filed later today, and
the House able to vote on that bill before they leave this week. Once that
number is done, I think it will be seen as almost certain that the Senate will
be able to deal with that bill and approve that number and we're going to move
think again, we're going to move forward in a way that minimizes as much as
possible the impact that this has on families and on individuals. And, Mr.
President, I look forward to you and I both having a chance to learn more about
this, even today, and to learn more as we move forward. And the big thing we
need to learn now is what the amount of money we need to have to spend and how
we allocate that money for a vaccine and other things.”