Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has released a bipartisan plan to spend nearly $8.3 billion to combat the growing threat of the coronavirus.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Leahy, who was the proposal’s lead negotiator, implored his colleagues to set aside their political "squabbles" and support the package.
"We should deal as what we are. We are Americans. We are U.S. senators," said Leahy, who is vice chair of the Appropriations Committee. "The 100 of us have to speak to our own conscience, and in a time of crisis in our nation's history, the Senate has proven its ability to be the conscience of the nation, the steady guiding hand. That's what we have to do now."
Much of the $8.3 billion in new spending would go toward research and development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. It would also give federal, state and local health agencies more money to address the crisis, and authorize $500 million for a telehealth program that would help patients receive care at home.
The package far surpasses the $2.5 billion that President Donald Trump initially requested for the crisis last month. Leahy said that proposal — which he called "grossly" inadequate — would have diverted funds meant to contain an Ebola outbreak as well as money for programs that low-income people rely on, such as a heating assistance.
"I would invite any of those from the White House who think we don't need heating to [visit] my home in Vermont — just a few days ago it was 10 below zero," Leahy said.
The House approved the package in a 415-2 vote Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to back the deal. It will then head to Trump, who recently said that he is now willing to spend "whatever is appropriate."
During his remarks on the Senate floor, Leahy also commended Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, for recent steps taken to address a potential outbreak in Vermont.
On Monday, Scott said he was forming a special task force to support the public health response. That same day, the first coronavirus case was announced in N.H. The virus had sickened an employee of the New Hampshire-based Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which many Vermonters use.
Seven Daysbroke news on Tuesday that the Vermont Department of Health was testing three people for the infection. The department announced later that day that the tests had come back negative, though the state was still monitoring 84 people who may have been exposed to the virus through travel or by contact with an infected person.
On Twitter, Leahy said Vermont would get at least $4.9 million from the package to combat the spread of the disease.