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Blunt Discusses Coronavirus Emergency Funding Bill

March 03, 2020

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 Remarks:
“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 quickly. …
“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 forward.
“I 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.”

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