Washington – The Trump administration is balking at $25 billion in new funding favored by Republican lawmakers in the next relief bill to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, said a person familiar with the talks.
Also opposed is a plan to allocate billions of additional dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and extra funding for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic around the world, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
A spokesman for Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in November’s election, termed the administration’s efforts “absolutely unconscionable.”
The move comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepares to unveil a GOP-only bill next week before engaging in negotiations with Democrats on what would be the fifth legislative action to address the coronavirus, and likely the last before the November election.
Talks are ongoing before the release of the bill and the situation is fluid, the person said, with final numbers far from being nailed down.
The person said that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has proposed that the health funding be cut, and money included instead for a new FBI headquarters, long a priority for President Donald Trump.
The administration’s proposals were reported earlier by The Washington Post. A White House spokesman declined to comment. Treasury didn’t immediately comment.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the appropriations committee, had been asked to craft a health care section of the bill and has said he wants robust funding for it.
Senate Republicans want to provide the means to ramp up coronavirus testing and contact tracing, but the administration argues that previously-approved money for testing remains unspent.
Trump has also repeatedly questioned the value of widespread testing, contending that the numbers of infections — which continue to set records in the U.S. — would be lower if fewer tests were conducted.
“Donald Trump is turning his back on his most important responsibility to the American people because, in the words of his own advisers, he ‘doesn’t want to be distracted by’ the worst public health crisis in 100 years,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in an emailed statement on Saturday.
The White House on Thursday signaled that Trump may reject a new aid bill if it doesn’t include a payroll tax cut, which is opposed by many Democratic lawmakers as well as some Republicans.
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