The Big Number: Debt-ceiling talks involve taking back unspent COVID funds: ‘It’s a nice hunk of change.’

The Big Number: About $30 billion in unused COVID-19 aid could get clawed back as part of a bipartisan deal on spending and the U.S. debt ceiling.

There was $90.5 billion in “unobligated” COVID funds as of January, according to the Government Accountability Office. A New York Times report last month put the money remaining at between $50 billion and $70 billion.

But estimates this month from the Associated Press and Bill Hoagland, a budget expert, say the amount involved is around $30 billion.

What it means: “If you could claw that back, it’s a nice hunk of change, so to speak, but it is — in the grand scheme of things — it’s a small piece of the negotiations,” Hoagland said in a Marketplace interview.

Hoagland is a former top Republican Senate staffer who is now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank. 

President Joe Biden sounded open to clawing back some unspent COVID aid as he took questions from reporters on May 9, following his first debt-limit meeting with the top four U.S. lawmakers.

“We don’t need it all,” Biden said. “I have to take a hard look at it. It’s on the table.”

Besides the potential for bipartisan agreement on COVID rescissions, there are growing expectations that a debt-limit deal also could involve some caps on future spending, energy-permitting reforms and tougher work requirements for recipients of some federal assistance.

See: Debt-ceiling standoff: Here’s what could go into a bipartisan deal

Biden on Wednesday sounded upbeat about achieving a deal and avoiding a market-shaking default.

“I’m confident that we’ll get the agreement on the budget and America will not default,” the president said during a brief speech at the White House.

U.S. stocks


traded higher Wednesday, as investors remained focused on the debt-ceiling talks.


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