Democrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic

Congressional Democrats are considering cutting new funds for pandemic preparedness in an upcoming package from the $30 billion proposed by President Biden to as little as $5 billion, sources say, prompting alarm from public health advocates.

As lawmakers look to pack a slew of priorities, from paid leave to universal prekindergarten, into a $3.5 trillion package, some areas are starting to get cut.

But advocates are warning that of all the funding to scale back on, money to prepare for future pandemics should be among the last items on the list, especially after COVID-19 has killed more than 600,000 Americans.

“It’s so stunning because if there was ever a teachable moment that we need to invest in public health, it is now,” Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, said in an interview. “We will not have another moment like this in our lifetimes.”

The White House proposed $30 billion over four years at the end of March, as part of Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, to “protect Americans from future pandemics.”

But as the money competes with other priorities in the coming package using the fast-track process known as reconciliation to bypass a GOP filibuster, the funding increase could come down to around $5 billion, though the negotiations are still in flux and the package is far from finalized.