GOP senators press for answers on testing

Two top Republican senators are calling on the Biden administration to provide answers about how it has spent billions of dollars in testing funds for COVID-19 amid shortages in such tests across the country.

Pharmacies sold out of rapid tests, and long lines at testing sites have sprung up in the last month amid holiday travel and a massive surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant.

Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate’s health committee, and Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the Appropriations health subcommittee, wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to ask why there are shortages despite the billions approved by Congress since 2020 that were specified for increased testing.

The senators pointed to $34.8 billion for testing across five bipartisan packages in 2020, and another $47.8 billion from Democrats’ American Rescue Plan in 2021.

“With over $82.6 billion specifically appropriated for testing, and flexibility within the Department to allocate additional funds from COVID-19 supplemental bills or annual appropriations if necessary, it is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now,” the senators write. “It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.”

Background: Late last month, the administration took action on that front, announcing the purchase of 500 million rapid tests to be made available for free to Americans who order them online. The tests are set to become available this month. Experts have pushed for further action given the U.S. population of 330 million, saying that 500 million tests are far from enough.