As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Congress continues to prioritize attention to combatting the disease and addressing the resulting economic repercussions. As lawmakers argue about the contents of another supplemental appropriations bill, a pair of Dear Colleague Letters (DCL) have been circulated in the House and Senate in support of $26 billion for federal research agencies in the next COVID-19 package. The House letter, sponsored by Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI), garnered 178 signatories and the Senate letter, sponsored by Ed Markey (D-MA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), had 33 signatories. The timeline for future supplemental bills is still unclear.
On May 6, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) held a hearing addressing the ongoing COVID-19 response. The Subcommittee heard testimony from President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives and former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden, and Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Caitlin Rivers. Members of the Subcommittee and the witnesses discussed a variety of issues related to the pandemic, including the best methods for reopening parts of the economy, the role of contact tracing in identifying at-risk individuals, best public health practices for rural communities, and the production timeline of a vaccine and other medical supplies. A major topic of discussion was the possibility of the Appropriations Committee to initiate a Health Defense Operations (HDO) account intended to address immediate public health crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. This account would be structured similarly to the often-controversial Department of Defense’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account and would allow much greater flexibility in funding public health initiatives without being affected by budget caps or competing with other discretionary accounts. A recording of the hearing and the witnesses’ testimonies are available on the Committee website.