House GOP vows ‘hundreds of millions’ more for Zika response – The Hill

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A leading Republican said Wednesday the House will ultimately approve just as much Zika virus funding – if not more – than the Senate, in an attempt to resolve the funding fight within the GOP.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla), who manages health spending on the House Appropriations Committee, said “there will be hundreds of millions” of dollars for the Zika virus in the annual spending bill this year.

“It will be very, very substantial,” Cole told The Hill, referring to Zika funding in this fall’s appropriations bill. “Actually, by the end of this, if you add it all up, we’ll either be at or above the Senate’s total… It’ll be very comparable.”

Cole strongly defended the House GOP’s funding package of $622 million, which will receive a vote on Thursday, while seeking to downplay the differences with the Senate’s bipartisan $1.1 billion package.

The House package lasts only through this September, while the Senate’s goes through September 2017 – which Cole said explains the funding gap: “We actually don’t disagree very much about the amount of money,” he said.  

Disagreement remains over whether the money should be offset.

Under law, lawmakers do not need to find offsets for emergency funding, though that issue has become a litmus test for legislation among House Republicans, under pressure from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation.

Cole said he believes Senate Republicans will agree with the House proposals to pay for the new spending, though the GOP senators were initially forced to work with Democrats to get their bill passed on the floor.

The House GOP though faces an uphill climb in passing Cole’s appropriations bill, known as the Labor-HHS, this year. The bill made it out of the Appropriations Committee for the first time in six years last year, but ultimately never received a floor vote.

The Obama administration has repeatedly accused the House GOP of depriving health agencies of funding to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus. President Obama requested $1.9 billion in funding in February, and was later forced to pull about $500 million from a separate Ebola account to amplify the response.

The White House on Wednesday delivered its strongest rebuke to date against the House GOP’s $622 million bill.

“The only thing that Republicans in the House have come forward with is funding at like a third of the level that our public health experts recommend,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a briefing Wednesday.

“That doesn’t make sense at all. That is a dumb approach. And I don’t really understand why — why one would even consider an approach like that,” he added.

Republicans have sharply condemned the administration’s claims that they are already short on funding.

“They have it now, they have $600 million now. When this [House] bill passes, they’ll have another $600 million. There’s over $2 billion in unobligated money in the Ebola fund,” Cole said.

“We put our money where our mouth is, they simply don’t want to pay for it,” he added.

House GOP vows ‘hundreds of millions’ more for Zika response – The Hill