Congressional Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to explain why the federal government is unable to supply COVID-19 tests despite substantial funding from Congress, according to the Washington Examiner.
Lawmakers have approved more than $80 billion for virus testing since the beginning of the pandemic nearly two years ago. Of that funding, Democrats unilaterally approved $47 billion in March for the development, manufacture, purchase, and distribution of new rapid COVID-19 tests.
As the omicron variant has caused demand to surge, COVID-19 tests have become difficult to find, and Republicans are demanding Biden answer for why the administration was unprepared.
“For the last month, Americans have faced long lines at testing centers,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said. “They've gone to places where they thought they could purchase a rapid test to find empty shelves. The question I really have is the same that many Americans have, which is, What went wrong? Why are we facing such a shortage of tests now?”
Blunt, along with Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, helped craft some of the legislation providing testing funds. The two senators wrote to the administration recently, requesting information on the $82.6 billion earmarked to produce and distribute the tests.
“It is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now,” the senators wrote. “It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.”
House Republicans also had a bone to pick with the executive branch, lambasting the administration for diverting $850 million to the situation on the southern border. The funds were used to house illegal immigrants, among other things.
“Your Administration has misused taxpayer dollars to spend on items unrelated to COVID-19 and repurposed funds for the southern border crisis of your own creation,” House Ways and Means Committee Republicans wrote to Biden this week.
Last week, the Biden administration said it would begin to address the test shortage by distributing nearly 500 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests “for free.” Starting Jan. 19, tests can be ordered but they won’t ship for 7-12 days.
Administration officials also said that the tests are less sensitive to the omicron variant, which currently makes up the majority of cases.
Republicans argued the administration’s plan won’t provide enough tests for individuals to test twice, which health officials say is needed to ensure accuracy.
In a phone call with reporters last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-N.Y., said Democrats expect “substantial sums to be requested” by the White House in COVID spending, including money to provide free testing.
It’s likely to be an uphill battle for Biden and the Democrats, however, as Republicans disagreed with the last round of COVID-19 aid and are fighting to restrain federal spending.
In total, Congress has approved $6 trillion in COVID-19 funding, one-third of it under Biden.
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