Missouri’s two U.S. senators spent part of Tuesday concerned with the coronavirus, one focusing on money to combat the spreading health crisis and the other advocating legislation to bring pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the United States from China.
Sen. Roy Blunt chaired an Appropriations subcommittee hearing that hosted Alex Azar, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department and executive branch point man for combating the virus that seemed to have its origins in China.
His testimony to the committee came on a morning when a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters the illness will spread in the United States.
“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Nancy Messonnier of the CDC said.
Senators on the subcommittee that oversees spending on federal health programs questioned Azar about the government’s response to the emergency.
Blunt said Azar’s department would have the resources necessary to respond.
“In the near term, money is available to meet the immediate needs of beginning to deal with this health challenge,” he said at a later press conference, “and we’re going to work with the White House, and we’ll decide the final number.”
In addition to a normal HHS budget, a supplemental appropriation is being sought to deal with coronavirus.
The Missourian said Azar should be prepared to be forthcoming with Congress about progress made in this fight.
“It not only takes a rapid response, but if we’re going to be your partners in this, it takes a lot of sharing of information,” Blunt told the cabinet secretary.
“When we give you this kind of authority to spend money, I think everyone on this committee would like a similar kind of treatment in your response to how that money is being spent.”
Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a senator not on the subcommittee, had designs on increasing national security through returning drug manufacturers to American soil.
“I’m going to introduce legislation this week that will help move our major medical supply chains from Beijing back to the United States,” he told the News-Press NOW.
“We are too dependent for our major drugs, including anti-virals, including antibiotics, on China, and the coronavirus is exposing that.”
The first-term Missouri Republican agreed with the Trump administration decision to implement travel restrictions from China, something he called for a month ago.
“It’s very difficult now to do effective screenings,” Hawley said. “We’re going to need more screening at all international airports across the country. We’re going to need an all-hands-on-deck effort from the Centers for Disease Control at major hospitals across the country.”
At the hearing, Azar called for continued vigilance in overseeing the crisis.
“While the immediate risk to individual members of the American public remains low, there is now community transmission in a number of countries, including outside of Asia, which is deeply concerning,” the cabinet secretary said.