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Congress Approves $8.3 Billion Bill To Combat Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Hill negotiators have reached agreement on an $ 8.3 billion measure to battle the coronavirus outbreak that’s spreading and threatening a major shock to the economy and disruptions to everyday life in the U.S.

The House will vote on the deal later Wednesday and Senate leaders are pressing for a vote in that chamber by the end of the week. The agreement was announced by spokespersons for the house and Senate Appropriations panels who negotiated the legislation.

The legislation came together in little more than a week, a rarity in a deeply polarized Washington. It triples the $ 2.5 billion plan unveiled by President Donald Trump just last week.

Trump, however, is sure to sign the measure, which has the blessing of top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and top House Republican Kevin McCarthy of California.

“This moment calls for collaboration and unity,” McConnell said. “It’s time to give our public health experts and healthcare professionals the surge resources they need at this challenging time.”

The agreement came together after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dropped a demand, opposed by the drug industry, to guarantee that any vaccines and drug treatments developed with government-backed research — but manufactured by drug companies — be offered at “affordable” prices.

Instead, the agreement provides $ 300 million for the government to purchase such drugs at “fair and reasonable” prices to distribute them to those who need it — which is the standard applied in earlier crises like the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak.

The bipartisan legislation includes: $ 350 million to aggressively go after the virus in “hot spots” like Washington state; $ 500 million to buy drugs, masks, and other medical supplies for states, local governments and hospitals; $ 1 billion to reimburse state and local governments for costs incurred in battling the outbreak; and $ 300 million for the Centers for Disease Control’s rapid response fund.

More than $ 800 million would fund research into a vaccine, improved tests, and drugs to treat infected people. Another $ 1.3 billion would be used to help fight the virus overseas.

The agreement comes as the outbreak in the U.S. appears increasingly likely to affect workers who are instructed to stay home, immigrants who may fear seeking treatment because they are in the U.S. illegally, and the potential rapid spread among homeless people. Widespread school closures are possible as well.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the administration’s response, is returning to Capitol Wednesday afternoon to separately brief House Democrats and Republicans.

Also Wednesday, top congressional leaders are meeting to discuss what additional steps may be needed to ensure the safety of the Capitol complex — for lawmakers and staff, as well as the annual influx of visitors this spring.

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