February 27, 2020

Senator Warren Unveils Legislation to De-Fund President's Border Wall, Use Funds to Combat Coronavirus Outbreak

Bill Would Generate An Estimated $10 Billion in Funding for Coronavirus Efforts

In Midst of Potential Pandemic, Trump Administration Has Failed to Direct Significant Resources to Coronavirus Response

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, today unveiled legislation, the Prioritizing Pandemic Prevention Act, requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall-including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts-to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.

"The coronavirus outbreak poses serious health, diplomatic, and economic threats to the United States, and we must be prepared to confront it head-on," said Senator Warren. "Rather than use taxpayer dollars to pay for a monument to hate and division, my bill will help ensure that the federal government has the resources it needs to adequately respond to this emergency."

Currently, more than 81,000 people have contracted the coronavirus, which is highly communicable and has killed approximately 3,000 people. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar has declared it a public health emergency in the United States. In addition, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that Americans should "prepare in the expectation that [a U.S. coronavirus outbreak] will be bad" and stated that "it's not so much a question of if this will happen...but rather...a question of...when."

In the midst of this potential pandemic, President Trump has failed to direct significant financial resources to his coronavirus response. His Fiscal Year 2021 budget, released just weeks ago, proposed decimating the HHS budget, including CDC's, and the President has requested that Congress reprogram funding dedicated to fighting Ebola to coronavirus. The president also requested a mere $1.25 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to combat the virus-an amount that received bipartisan opposition-and his administration is reportedly transferring $37 million to coronavirus efforts from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which funds heating for poor families. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has continued to request funding for a wall on the southern border.

While emergency supplemental appropriations are not typically offset, the Prioritizing Pandemic Prevention Act would provide a down payment of an estimated $10 billion in funding for coronavirus efforts by redirecting funds from border wall funding at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) counterdrug and military construction funding previously diverted for wall construction, including any unobligated balances of such funding from fiscal year 2019.

Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and has the resources needed to address this public health threat. Her ongoing oversight efforts include the following:

  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled CDC recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed their concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to DoD seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.

In addition, Senator Warren has long taken steps to oppose President Trump's border wall, including the following:

  • Less than three weeks after President Trump took office, she led colleagues on a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security raising concerns about the potential diversion of funds from key DHS priorities to pay for the border wall.
  • In February 2019, she introduced the Protecting Disaster Relief Funds Act (S. 534), to prevent President Trump from using funds appropriated for disaster relief to fund construction of a border wall.
  • In March 2017, Senator Warren cosponsored a bill (S. 668) to nullify President Trump's executive order that a border wall be built.