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Worries about Tapping Into COVID Relief07/24 06:31

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Organizations representing long-term care facilities on 
Friday urged lawmakers working on a bipartisan infrastructure plan to avoid 
dipping into COVID-relief funds to help pay for the roughly $600 billion in new 
spending sought for the public works buildout.

   The request comes as lawmakers are struggling to finish up negotiations over 
the package amid stubborn disagreements over how to pay for the new spending. 
Lawmakers and staff are expected to work through the weekend, sorting through 
the flurry of tensions over funds for water resources, public transit and other 
details in what they hope are the final stages of their work.

   The groups representing the long-term care facilities said tapping virus 
relief dollars would be "short-sighted, especially as COVID-19 variants 
continue to spread." They noted the Delta variant that now accounts for most of 
the new cases and threatens "the safety of our nation's seniors and their 
caregivers."

   Senators working on the infrastructure plan hope to have a bill ready to be 
voted on next week. President Joe Biden has made passing the bipartisan plan a 
top priority, the first of his two-part $4 trillion proposal to rebuild, but a 
Senate test vote failed this week after Republicans said they needed more time 
to finish the package and review the details.

   Negotiators have struggled over how to pay for the new spending without 
raising income taxes or user fees such as the federal gas tax. They're looking 
at other sources, including undoing a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates, 
redirecting billions of unspent dollars from last year's COVID relief and 
tapping other potential funding streams.

   Even if the negotiators strike an agreement, it's not at all clear the 
funding sources will pass muster with the Congressional Budget Office, the 
chief arbiter of many bills in Congress. If the final accounting shows the 
package is not fully paid for, some lawmakers may balk and use that as another 
reason to vote against it.

   "Folks will always find a problem with our pay-fors," Sen. Bill Cassidy, 
R-La., said on Bloomberg Television. "On the other hand, we will have it paid 
for and we will be able to not just pay for it, but point towards long-term 
gains the society, the economy will benefit from, according to multiple 
economists from across the political spectrum."

   Groups representing nursing homes and other long-term care facilities called 
on the negotiators Friday not to redirect money from a fund established to 
reimburse health care providers for expenses and lost revenue due to COVID-19.

   The Department of Health and Human Services said Friday there is about $24 
billion not yet allocated to providers, out of about $178 billion Congress 
approved for the fund through various relief measures.

   The groups said some of their members have not been able to get 
reimbursement for expenses and lost revenue incurred in the latter months of 
2020 and this year and were anxiously awaiting another round of funding from 
HHS.

   A Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the negotiations confirmed 
that how to redirect certain COVID relief dollars is still among the issues 
that have not yet been resolved. Another is the amount of money that would be 
dedicated to public transit. There are also disputes over broadband funds and 
labor laws, the aide said.

   Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the chairman of the Banking Committee, and Tom 
Carper of Delaware, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, 
released a joint statement saying that "robust funding" for transit is a must.

   "We will not support any package that neglects this fundamental part of our 
nation's infrastructure," the two senators said.

   Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said that 20% of funding from the 
Highway Trust Fund traditionally goes to transit versus 80% for roads and 
bridges, and there is concern from Republicans that the bipartisan framework 
changes that ratio to the advantage of transit.

   Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has also voiced concerns about the water and 
wastewater segments of the bill. She warned that she can't commit to supporting 
a final bill if didn't fully fund a $35.9 billion water bill that she sponsored 
and which passed the Senate by a vote of 89-2.

   Carper said senators were assured that the legislation would be fully 
funded, but "now we're hearing it may be moved around." He said that $15 
billion may be specifically allocated for lead pipe removal, rather than giving 
the states and local governments the flexibility to use that money as they deem 
most appropriate, which could include lead pipe removal.

   The final package would need the support of 60 senators in the evenly split 
50-50 Senate to advance past a filibuster. Last week's test vote failed along 
party lines.

   The package would next go to the House, where some Democrats are fearful 
that their priorities have been overlooked during the Senate negotiations and 
are warning that their votes should not be taken for granted.

   Congress would next turn to Biden's broader goals that are being drawn up in 
a $3.5 trillion package that Democrats plan to pass on their own under special 
budget reconciliation rules that would allow for a 51-vote threshold in the 
Senate.

 
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