US Congress ruthlessly slashes Covid funding

Budget cuts will devastate poor and working people at home and abroad

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. government has spent 214 times more money on the military than on vaccines for global donation. GRAPHIC: Gordon Frazier / FS
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Congress must be tired of fighting the pandemic. This April, the Senate agreed to a bare-bones budget of $10 billion, restricted to domestic Covid efforts. The deal grabs back money allocated to states that has not been spent and uses no new dollars. Furthermore, the agreement scraps all desperately needed aid to developing nations.

Even though the virus rages in the Global South and surges across the United States, elected officials are slamming the door on treatment funds. Their financing abandons all plans for future preparedness and barely covers immediate needs. It eliminates free testing and vaccinations for the uninsured, remedies for the immunocompromised, research projects in the U.S., and jettisons all international coronavirus help.

Both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the $10 billion is inadequate. However, Republican Senators balked at Biden’s request for $22.5 billion. Neither the House Democrats nor the President opposed the lowered appropriation.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are holding up passage of the bill, demanding that Biden drop his plans to cancel Title 42, a Trump-era measure that allows for the rapid expulsion of asylum seekers. As politicians bicker, domestic treatment coffers are running dry. The federal agency that reimburses clinics for tests and vaccines can no longer do so. These free services are disappearing.

Congress’s behavior is cruel to those without the money to pay for tests and shots, increasing their risk of infection. It is also foolhardy because variants develop in unvaccinated populations and spread from coast to coast and around the planet.

Deadly disparity. The Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) is a main agency facilitating immunizations across the world. With insufficient donations, they met only half of their 2021 target of delivering 2 billion doses. The World Health Organization (WHO) goal to inoculate 70% of humanity by mid-2022 is also floundering.

As of May 2022, only 16% of people in disadvantaged countries have received at least one dose as compared to 78% in the U.S. The disparity among states is now termed “vaccine apartheid.” The pandemic underscores the life and death differences between global haves and have-nots. (See “Covid-19 vaccine distribution is a global disaster.”)

Economically disadvantaged nations are forced by circumstances to rely on the generosity of wealthy ones for treatment resources. There is no mechanism to force richer countries to pay their fair share to COVAX and WHO. Trickle-down philanthropy — like trickle-down economics — is a deadly farce.

Attempts by developing states to limit their reliance on charity have been vehemently opposed by pharmaceuticals and some rich countries. Manufacturers, who are making a killing on inoculations, do not want to suspend intellectual property rules to allow for the production of cheaper generics in the Global South. Efforts are being made to work around the blockade. Meanwhile, the result of this profiteering is an untold number of preventable deaths.

Money for war not for healthcare. Governments of wealthier countries are failing in their obligations to assist poorer ones. And the biggest roadblock is the USA. Even before the current budget negotiations, Uncle Sam was reneging on its pledges. The government had promised to contribute 1.2 billion vaccine doses but only 540 million have been delivered as of May 2022.

“We’re the United States of America. We’re supposed to be funding at least 25% of the global effort. That’s just our fair share,” lamented Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) when the Senate nixed international assistance.

Instead, the government is spending money on the Pentagon. Since the pandemic began, the United States has paid out 214 times more on the military than on worldwide vaccines. In These Times calculates that during the past two years $53 billion was spent on nuclear weapons but only $7 billion on donated doses.

The war in Ukraine has only escalated arms expenditures. Support is flowing to that war zone, much of it designated for weapons. In March, Biden signed a package for $13.6 billion, and in May, Congress approved $40 billion more.

The minimalist funding for Covid therapeutics exposes what the Democrats and Republicans care about. And it’s certainly not the disadvantaged of any nation — including their own. Their focus is on rehabilitating the economy by feeding its addiction to war and profit. It’s about protecting the privilege of the haves.

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