President Joe Biden is not expected to seek significant new Covid funding as part of his forthcoming budget proposal, the latest sign that the White House is preparing to wind down its emergency response operation later this year.
The move comes as Biden has insisted that the public health crisis is under control, and amid a broader administration shift toward new priorities aimed at bolstering the post-pandemic economy and lowering consumer costs.
The White House proposal, which is scheduled for release Thursday, is expected to drop a call Biden made last year for tens of billions of dollars to fuel the ongoing crisis response, including purchasing more vaccines and treatments, three people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
The budget may also leave out the administration’s prior request for new funding to jumpstart research aimed at developing the next generation of Covid vaccines and therapeutics. Health officials are currently discussing whether there’s existing money that can be reallocated toward the project.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget declined to comment, and the people familiar with the matter cautioned that the details of the budget proposal were not finalized and could still change.
Even if the White House renewed its funding request, it would have faced a highly uncertain path forward. House Republicans have pledged to scale back the government’s Covid response, and even among Democratic lawmakers there’s little enthusiasm for continuing to fund the effort.
But the waning focus on Covid still represents a notable shift for an administration that once believed its success in ending the pandemic would define Biden’s presidency. The White House in its first months prioritized spending hundreds of billions of dollars to distribute vaccines, develop new treatments and bolster the nation’s public health apparatus.
Biden also made Covid a centerpiece of his first two budget proposals. He argued it was critical to fund government programs capable of responding swiftly to Covid and any future pandemic threats.
And top White House officials spent much of last year pleading with Congress to allocate as much as $22.5 billion toward its ongoing pandemic operations, warning that the dwindling funding risked crippling its ability to combat dangerous new variants.
But those requests were stonewalled by Republicans skeptical of the need for additional Covid funding. The extended stalemate forced the White House to pare back its ambitions and accelerate preparations to shift responsibility for purchasing and distributing vaccines and treatments to the private sector later this year. The administration is now unlikely to need additional money to buy more shots and therapies, with officials calculating they should have enough on hand to meet demand until it hands the job off to private insurers.
A White House budget proposal is traditionally viewed as little more than a presidential wish list. But last year’s Covid funding fight has left officials convinced there is little appetite on either side of the aisle in Congress for continuing to make the pandemic response a top federal priority, the people familiar with the matter said — even against the persistent backdrop of more than 2,000 Covid deaths a week.
The White House is instead expected to use its budget to highlight a series of proposals designed to build out other health programs, in an effort to sharpen Biden’s contrast with House Republicans he’s accused of wanting to gut major parts of the nation’s safety net.
The administration earlier this week detailed a plan to extend Medicare’s solvency by raising taxes on people making more than $400,000 and expanding the program’s new authority to negotiate the price of certain drugs.
Biden is also likely to renew his call for making enhanced Obamacare subsidies permanent, two people familiar with the matter said, as well as for implementing a policy that would extend health coverage to low-income Americans in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.