1 of 5 | Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the White House's claims that it could not purchase vaccines, therapeutics and other COVID-19 supplies without funding from Congress were 'patently false' during a Senate hearing Thursday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
June 16 (UPI) -- Sen. Mitt Romney on Thursday accused the White House of misleading Congress about its need for additional funding for COVID-19 programs.
During a Senate health committee meeting, Romney, R-Utah, expressed "surprise" that the White House reallocated $10 billion to fund the purchase of additional vaccines, therapeutics and monoclonal antibodies on June 8, after it had previously told lawmakers it did not have the funding to purchase such items.
"Washington operates on a relationship of trust between the respective parties," Romney said. "For the administration to provide information to us that was patently false is something which dramatically attacks that trust which I have, members of my party have, members of both parties have."
The White House had asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency relief after saying for months it would be unable to purchase new vaccines and antiviral pills without the additional funding.
Romney, who helped negotiate a $10 billion funding package, noted that the White House did not reallocate the funds over several months that had passed since lawmakers asked the administration to provide an accounting for how prior COVID-19 relief money had been spent and how the requested money had been spent in March.
"I hope that there is an appreciation for the administration to say that they could not purchase these things and then, after several months, divert some funds and then purchase them is unacceptable and makes our ability to work together and have confidence in what we're being told very much shaken to the core," he said.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also criticized the Biden administration officials for seeking the funding.
"This has been the most well-orchestrated event that I've seen in the 28 years that I've been here," he said. "This was designed to pressure Republicans to open a checkbook, sign the check and let the administration fill in the balance."
White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement that the White House engaged in "countless" briefings and conference calls in addition to providing hundreds of pages of funding documents to lawmakers.
"We've also been crystal clear about the consequences of a lack of funding ... including the very real possibility that we would have to re-evaluate the planned uses of existing funds," said Munoz.
During Thursday's hearing, Dawn O'Connell, assistant health secretary for emergency preparedness and response, testified that the administration had to make "significant trade-offs -- trade-offs that none of us wanted to make" in its decision to reroute the funding.
O'Connell added that the funding came from the administration's COVID-19 testing program, the Strategic National Stockpile and the nation's emergency medical reserve.
She added the reserve would not be able to purchase domestically manufactured surgical gowns and would "struggle to be able to maintain" its current levels of protective gear as a result.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., urged that preparing for the next stage of the pandemic should be the top priority of Congress.
"Democrats have been hammering this home for months -- we've been yelling from the rooftops, warning what's at risk if we don't get this done," she said. "The fact that the administration has to resort to allocating resources from our long-term needs to keep our short term response afloat -- that's not a solution. That's a stopgap. And it should be a clear sign of how urgent it is that Congress take action."