JONATHAN LEMIRE Associated Press
NEW DELHI (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the urgent $2.5 billion plan for coronavirus he sent to lawmakers will prepare the nation in case of an outbreak in the U.S. and help other nations unprepared to handle the threat.
“We just asked for $2.5 billion on getting everything ready just in case something should happen and also helping other nations that really aren’t equipped to do it,” Trump said at a business forum in New Delhi.
The White House budget office said the funding would be used for vaccine development, treatment and protective equipment, but the amount of the request was quickly slammed by Democrats as insufficient. The budget request came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The rapid spread of the virus and threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets, but Trump said he thinks China is getting the epidemic under control.
“They’ve had a rough patch and … it looks like they’re getting it under control more and more,” Trump said. “They’re getting it more and more under control so I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away, but we lost almost 1,000 points yesterday on the (stock) market.”
The funding request was released Monday evening and came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
The Trump administration is requesting $1.25 billion in new funding and wants to transfer $535 million more from an Ebola preparedness account that’s been a top priority of Democrats. It anticipates shifting money from other HHS accounts and other agencies to complete the $2.5 billion response plan.
Democrats said that Trump’s attempt to go after existing Ebola prevention funding was dead on arrival.
“All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic, and the administration has no plan,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who blasted a shortage of kits to test for the virus and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have a crisis of coronavirus, and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response.”
Democrats controlling the House wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points. Azar was slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.
The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy. Almost 80,000 people have contracted the disease, with more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in China.
The United States, however, has had only 14 cases of the disease spread across seven states.