U.S. Senate negotiators near agreement on $10 bln round of COVID funds

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U.S. Senate Majjority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faces reporters following the weekly Senate Democratic lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 29, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate negotiators on Thursday were nearing a deal on a $10 billion COVID-19 bill to help the federal government acquire more vaccines and medical supplies as it prepares for future variants of the virus that upended American life.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said senators were "close to a final agreement" on a bill aiming to shore up stockpiles to be used both domestically and internationally.

If a deal is finalized in coming days, the Senate might be able to pass the bill and send it to the House of Representatives before the start of a spring recess at the end of next week.

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"We need more money right away so we have enough vaccines and testing and life-saving therapeutics," Schumer said in a speech to the Senate.

The amount is a tiny fraction of the $4.6 trillion Congress has approved since early 2020 to fight the virus, much of which was devoted to offsetting its heavy economic hit.

Early this month, Congress failed to pass a $15.6 billion relief bill amid Republican opposition to new federal spending. Many Democrats, meanwhile, rebelled against taking back some money earmarked to help state and local governments in order to pay for the new round of coronavirus relief.

Schumer said a failure to adequately prepare for a possible new coronavirus variant could reverse progress in fighting the pandemic and reopening most American institutions.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters that nearly half of the financing for the bill would come from recapturing funding from previous COVID aid laws that were intended to help performing arts venues recover from being shuttered during long periods of the pandemic and for aid to aviation manufacturers.

COVID-19 has caused 6.5 million deaths globally, with 980,000 in the United States alone. While the pandemic has been showing signs of easing, prompting many to shed the medical masks that had become part of daily life, U.S. deaths still lead the world with an average of 710 per day.

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Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio

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