As Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman write for The Washington Post:
The White House appears to have informed Democrats that they want to fund the emergency response in part by taking money from a program that funds low income home heating assistance.
A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families. [Pols emphasis]
Democrats see this as provoking budgetary bickering and unnecessary political friction at a time when a clean emergency appropriation could easily avoid both.
“After dithering for weeks as the coronavirus spread around the world, the Trump administration has now decided to pay for its belated response by cutting funding for heating assistance for low-income families,” Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, told us in a statement.
The Trump administration also wants to help fund the Coronavirus response by snatching $535 million that had been allocated to respond to the threat of an Ebola virus outbreak. None of this is actually necessary, however, since Congress can just create a separate emergency funding process whenever it wants. Back to The Washington Post:
Richard Kogan, senior fellow at the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that this emergency funding process allows for requests that are statutorily exempt from spending caps, and is designed precisely in order to enable a rapid response…
…To those who ideologically oppose wasteful spending, Kogan points out that money appropriated this way can only be used for the emergency in question, and cannot be diverted if it doesn’t all get used.
The White House Coronavirus funding request could put Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) in a (familiar) difficult position. As a Member of Congress in 2013, Gardner was pilloried for siding with House Republican Leadership in politicizing, and rejecting, emergency relief for hurricane victims and then coming back with hat-in-hand to request money for flood relief in Colorado (when even Chris Christie is calling you a hypocrite, you know you done messed up). Gardner’s role in both refusing disaster relief and allowing a massive government shutdown generated significant negative headlines during his 2014 Senate campaign.
If you don’t think Gardner isn’t fully aware of this pending political problem, check out his Twitter feed this afternoon:
Today I received a classified briefing from top officials at @CDCGov, @HHSGov, @NIH, @US_FDA, @DHSGov, and @StateDept on the US Government’s response to the novel #coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and I stand ready to make sure Congress is a collaborative partner in the response.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) February 25, 2020
That’s nice, but if push comes to shove, and President Trump demands that Republicans fund coronavirus response by taking money away from cold, poor people — we all know where Gardner is going to stand.