“The roughly $10 billion in pandemic aid the Senate is preparing to vote on after a weekslong impasse will keep the nation’s testing, treatment and vaccination programs afloat for only a couple months, lawmakers, Biden administration officials and public health experts warn.”
“This round of funding — if it can pass the House and Senate — would help restart key Covid-19 programs that recently ran out of resources, including the development of future variant-specific vaccines and federal government purchases of drugs for people at risk of hospitalization.
But the package was whittled down from more than $30 billion federal officials originally argued was needed to $22.5 billion the White House pitched to Capitol Hill last month to $15.6 billion congressional leaders tried to attach to the 2022 spending bill.
Now, $10 billion is on the table and the money for the global vaccination effort and for testing, treating and vaccinating the uninsured was dropped, all but guaranteeing the Biden administration will shortly need Congress to do this all over again.”
“Public health leaders warn that these short-term bursts of cash are creating gaps in preparedness, leaving millions vulnerable to a new Covid surge.”
“with no global money in the current deal, policymakers fear the disruption to the U.S.’ pandemic work overseas will continue indefinitely.
“Doing nothing to slow the global spread of COVID-19 is foolhardy,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) warned Monday. “As the virus continues to mutate and wreak havoc overseas, more Americans will become sick and die.”
For months, officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development have warned lawmakers that they would soon run out of money to help facilitate vaccinations in low- and middle-income countries, and advocated for at least $19 billion for the global Covid fight.”
“On the domestic front, the funding delays have forced the federal government to halt purchases of enough additional booster doses for all Americans and slash the purchase and distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral pills for high-risk Covid patients. It has also disrupted research into new treatments and cut off reimbursements to doctors around the country for testing, treating, and — as of Tuesday — vaccinating the uninsured. Even if Congress manages to approve the funding this week, public health experts say, there’s a good chance all of these threats will reemerge in just a few months, damaging the stability and continuity of their fight against the virus.”
“the latest CR means that government agencies are still operating on a budget from December 2020. Not only is that budget insufficient to meet the funding needs of major portions of the government, such as the Defense and Transportation departments, but the use of the CR prevents the implementation of new programs from legislation Congress has already passed, like the infrastructure bill. Without individual appropriations bills or an omnibus bill that accounts for all of the programs and funding needed for different agencies, the government can’t get started on a number of major projects despite the clear need for infrastructure upgrades and bipartisan support for the legislation.”
“Congress’s dependence on CRs is due to lawmakers’ inability to agree on full-year appropriations bills.
Congress’s actual deadline for passing appropriations legislation is at the end of September each year. Because bills from the previous year expire at that time, lawmakers need to approve a new set of 12 appropriations bills to fund federal agencies and make sure the government doesn’t run out of money. (If the government runs out of money and shuts down, agencies are forced to furlough employees and reduce their services.)
Had these bills passed on time, all spending would have been approved last fall. Instead, because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement, they passed a short-term spending bill that gave them a new deadline in December. When they couldn’t reach an agreement then, they passed another short-term spending bill that postponed the deadline to February 18. And because of ongoing conflicts, they’re planning to pass one more short-term spending bill to give them until mid-March.
Whether lawmakers procrastinate again is an open question.”
“Because Democrats control 50 Senate seats, but need 60 votes to pass the funding bills, members of the minority have leverage over what they’d like to see included.”
“Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.”
“Bipartisan provisions requiring women to register for the draft, cracking down on Saudi Arabia and imposing sanctions on Russia were nixed; legislation repealing outdated Iraq war authorizations fell by the wayside; reforms to the military justice system and efforts to combat extremism in the ranks were pared back; and a proposal to give Washington, D.C., control of its National Guard was dropped.”
“Millions of veterans are self-medicating their war-caused ailments with marijuana, and they are frustrated the VA continues to dismiss the drug’s possible benefits. The VA will not expand the piecemeal cannabis research it is undertaking, despite recent bipartisan calls from Congress, doctors and veterans. And without that research, the VA continues to deny cannabis recommendations to veterans in 36 states that allow medical marijuana.”
“The federal government sent around $190 billion in aid to public schools across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a lot of money by any standards, but in terms of federal spending on primary education, it is a shockingly large amount: as Reason’s Matt Welch explained when surveying the Biden administration’s weak moves toward promoting public school reopening back in February, that’s more than four times as much as the federal government tended to push toward K-12 education a year in pre-COVID times.
Is the money being diligently used for its intended purpose? Of course not. A survey by ProPublica found, when examining some of the “provisional annual reports…by state education agencies” for about $3 billion worth of the aid from March to September of 2020, that “just over half of the $3 billion in aid was categorized as ‘other,’ providing no insight into how the funds were allocated.”
Over the last school year, 15 states constituting around a quarter of the total U.S. population didn’t even manage to achieve 50 percent effective in-person education, the alleged purpose of all that federal COVID money.”
“”The law places few restrictions on how districts can spend the federal aid, as long as the investments are loosely connected to the effects of the pandemic,” ProPublica explains, while noting that various districts, as reported by the Associated Press, are diverting the cash to athletics. The schools are supposed to spend all the money by 2024. The Associated Press reports that although schools “are required to tell states how they’re spending the money…some schools are using local funding for sports projects and then replacing it with the federal relief—a maneuver that skirts reporting requirements.””
“What is not in dispute is that the NIH did provide $600,000 to the WIV, funneled through the EcoHealth Alliance research group, to study the risk that more bat-borne coronaviruses, like the 2003 outbreak of the SARS virus, would emerge in China. What is in contention is whether the NIH grant funded gain of function research at the WIV, and the entirely separate question of whether or not the COVID-19 coronavirus originated in that laboratory.”
“Those Chinese researchers took the known WIV1 coronavirus, the spike proteins of which already give it the ability to infect human cells using the ACE2 receptor, and then replaced it with spike proteins from newly discovered bat coronaviruses. The goal was to see if the spike proteins from the novel coronaviruses would be sufficient to replace the function of the WIV1 spike protein. The researchers found that two versions of the WIV1 virus modified with the novel spike proteins could still use the ACE2 receptor to infect and replicate in human cells in culture.
Is this gain of function research? To some extent, this controversy is somewhat reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s notorious sophistic dodge, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
During the hearing, Paul cited statements from Richard Ebright, a long-time gain-of-function research critic and Rutgers University biologist, published by National Review back in May. “The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals,” Ebright said. “This is high-risk research that creates new potential pandemic pathogens (i.e., potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in a lab, not in nature). This research matches—indeed epitomizes—the definition of ‘gain of function research of concern’ for which federal funding was ‘paused’ in 2014-2017.” At the hearing, Fauci responded to Paul’s assertions that the 2017 study “you were referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function.”
In May, the NIH, in response to a query from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, issued a statement declaring that the agency “has never approved any grant to support ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans. The research proposed in the EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., grant
application sought to understand how bat coronaviruses evolve naturally in
the environment to become transmissible to the human population.”
Robert Garry, a Tulane University virologist pointed out to Newsweek that the Wuhan experiments were done to study whether the bat coronaviruses could infect humans. What they didn’t do, he argued, was make the viruses “any better” at infecting people, which would be necessary for gain-of-function research. In other words, Garry does not think that the WIV research increased the virulence or transmissibility of the modified viruses.
On Twitter, King’s College London virologist Stuart Neil observed that “the EcoHealth grant [from the NIH] was judged by the vetting committee to not involve GoF [gain of function] because the investigators were REPLACING a function in a virus that ALREADY HAD human tropism rather than giving a function to one that could not infect humans.” Neil does acknowledge that “understandably this is a grey area.” He goes on to argue, “But whether I or anyone thinks in retrospect that this is or is not GoF, the NIH did not, so in that respect Fauci is NOT lying.”
Live Congressional testimony is not always coherent, but Paul seemed to be suggesting later in the hearing that the COVID-19 coronavirus could be a gain of function virus developed by the WIV that leaked from the institute’s laboratories. Fauci responded, “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator, because if you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments that were given in the annual reports that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible.” Fauci is right: One point on which all researchers do agree is that none of the viruses modified in the 2017 study could be the cause of the current pandemic. They are simply too genetically different to be the precursors of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
During their heated exchange, Paul backtracked a bit, “No one is saying that those viruses caused the pandemic. What we’re alleging is the gain of function research was going on in that lab and NIH funded it.” Neil observes that “all lab leak scenarios rest on the isolation and culture of either the immediate precursor of SARS-CoV-2 or the construction of a molecular clone from such a hitherto unidentified/undisclosed virus that could serve as a template for GoF experiments not covered by the NIH funding or required for its stated aims and thus far denied by the WIV and EcoHealth.” That is as may be, but Paul seems to be asserting a different claim, which is that the NIH funded some of the research that ended up training scientists at the WIV on how to use gain-of-function techniques that would enable them to develop, either intentionally or inadvertently, more virulent and lethal strains of coronaviruses.
So who is lying? Both Paul and Fauci can cite experts who agree with their interpretations of what the NIH funded at the WIV. Consequently, both men can reasonably believe that they are each telling the truth while the other is a dishonest fraud.
It is worth noting that an international team of researchers posted earlier this month a preprint analysis that finds that most of the evidence strongly points to a natural spillover of the virus. Still, whether or not the pandemic coronavirus leaked from the WIV’s labs is yet to be determined. The fact that the Chinese government has just rejected the World Health Organization’s follow-up investigation into the origins of the virus will certainly and properly continue to fuel suspicions that it did.”