Trump team baulks at coronavirus test funds in new Bill

Healthcare workers test patients at the Covid-19 testing site at the Duke Energy for the Arts Mahaffey Theater, on July 8, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Trump administration is baulking at US$25 billion (S$34.7 billion) in new funding favoured by Republican lawmakers in the next relief Bill to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, said a person familiar with the talks.

Also opposed is a plan to allocate billions of additional dollars for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and extra funding for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic around the world, said the person, who wasn't authorised to speak publicly.

A spokesman for Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic challenger in November's election, termed the administration's efforts "absolutely unconscionable."

The move comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepares to unveil a GOP-only Bill next week before engaging in negotiations with Democrats on what would be the fifth legislative action to address the coronavirus, and likely the last before the November election.

Talks are ongoing before the release of the Bill and the situation is fluid, the person said, with final numbers far from being nailed down.

The person said that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has proposed that the health funding be cut, and money included instead for a new FBI headquarters, long a priority for President Donald Trump.

The administration's proposals were reported earlier by the Washington Post. A White House spokesman declined to comment. Treasury didn't immediately comment.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the appropriations committee, had been asked to craft a health care section of the Bill and has said he wants robust funding for it.


Early in his administration, Trump moved to block plans to relocate the FBI building from downtown DC to the Washington suburbs, even though rebuilding it in its current location was estimated to cost more.

The Trump Organisation operates a hotel across the street from the current headquarters.

Senate Republicans want to provide the means to ramp up coronavirus testing and contact tracing, but the administration argues that previously-approved money for testing remains unspent.

Trump has also repeatedly questioned the value of widespread testing, contending that the numbers of infections - which continue to set records in the US - would be lower if fewer tests were conducted.

"Donald Trump is turning his back on his most important responsibility to the American people because, in the words of his own advisers, he 'doesn't want to be distracted by' the worst public health crisis in 100 years," Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in an emailed statement on Saturday (July 18).

The White House on Thursday signalled that Trump may reject a new aid bill if it doesn't include a payroll tax cut, which is opposed by many Democratic lawmakers as well as some Republicans.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.