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Coronavirus aid package signed into law as death toll mounts

by CQ Roll Call staff, CQ News

President Donald Trump signed the emergency supplemental spending bill to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, making $8.3 billion in new federal assistance available to government health officials for research and purchases of vaccines and medications.

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The package (HR 6074) grew substantially since Feb. 24 when the White House submitted an initial request for $2.5 billion, with about half of those dollars redirected from existing funds. Lawmakers added to the price tag as the death toll mounted and stock markets nosedived, and Trump announced he'd accept a much larger appropriation.

"We've signed the 8.3 billion. I asked for two and a half and I got 8.3 and I'll take it," the president told reporters Friday morning.

Trump had originally been slated to sign the measure at an appearance in Atlanta on Friday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vice President Mike Pence said late Thursday. The White House later scrapped that plan because of a suspected coronavirus case at the CDC itself.

That case turned out to be negative, however, and Trump said Friday he may yet try to get to CDC headquarters later in the day. "So I may be going. We're going to see if they can turn it around," Trump said.

The Atlanta trip to CDC headquarters has since been put back on Trump's Friday schedule.

Administration officials had told lawmakers in recent days after their initial request was submitted that there may be a need for more money before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

That in part prompted appropriators to increase the size of the initial tranche, rather than be caught up in another legislative struggle later in the year when funds were running out.

"That's why we bumped it up," Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said Thursday before the Senate cleared the measure for Trump's signature on a 96-1 vote. The House margin was a similarly lopsided 415-2 vote on Wednesday, just hours after the bill had been introduced. 

The supplemental aid package contains over $3 billion for research and development into drug treatments, testing and an eventual vaccine, including funds to purchase vaccines and medications that would have to comply with federal contracting rules on pricing. Democrats lost a bid to apply the same pricing standards to commercial market purchases of drugs and vaccines, which Republicans derided as price controls that would stifle innovation.

The measure also contains about $3.2 billion to help public health agencies contain and treat the disease, including almost $1 billion to buy medical supplies. There's also $1.25 billion for overseas assistance efforts.

Trump signed the measure is the number of COVID-19 climbed above 100,300, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with over 3,400 deaths. In the United States there are 233 confirmed cases, with 14 deaths so far, according to Johns Hopkins.

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