WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican senator who spearheaded failed Covid-19 response funding negotiations, on Thursday accused the White House of misleading Congress about the urgency of the situation.
In a striking monologue during a congressional hearing, Romney expressed anger that he spent months negotiating with his colleagues to craft a $10 billion funding package, when the Biden administration earlier this month announced that it had repurposed existing funding to pay for $10 billion in vaccines and therapeutics purchases in the absence of congressional action.
Romney called the administration’s claims earlier this year that it was unable to buy more therapeutics, vaccines, and antiviral treatments without more funding “patently false,” and said he “wouldn’t have worked as hard” to secure a bipartisan deal if he had known that other funds could be repurposed. The claims were made in a letter sent to Romney from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on March 7, which was first published by STAT in May.
“I hope that there’s an appreciation that for the administration to say they could not purchase these things, and then after several months, divert some funds and then purchase them is unacceptable, and makes our ability to work together and have confidence in what we’re being told very much shaken to the core,” Romney said.
The White House declined to comment on Romney’s statements.
The $10 billion bipartisan deal Romney helped craft stalled in Congress amid a dispute over immigration policy. Without Romney, a moderate Republican who has an unusual willingness to buck his party, the Senate is unlikely to pass any additional funding.
Romney isn’t the only moderate Republican who expressed skepticism about offering the federal government more funds.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has been more supportive of funding for pandemic preparedness than many of his GOP colleagues, on Thursday called the administration’s appeals for more Covid aid “the most well-orchestrated event I’ve seen in the 28 years since I’ve been here.”
“This was designed to pressure Republicans to open a checkbook, sign the check, and let the administration fill in the balance,” Burr said.