Senate advances compromise bill to provide $1.1 billion to combat Zika – USA TODAY

5 months ago Comments Off on Senate advances compromise bill to provide $1.1 billion to combat Zika – USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — With the summer mosquito-season fast approaching, the Senate voted Tuesday to advance a bipartisan compromise that would provide $1.1 billion to help public health officials battle the Zika virus as it begins to threaten the continental United States.

Senators voted 68-29 to advance an amendment by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., to provide the emergency funding, which would be used for mosquito control, public education and the development of a vaccine. The amendment is now set to be attached to two unrelated spending bills that still must be given final approval.

“This is a bipartisan first step toward protecting families from this virus,” Murray said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Federal health officials warn that people in the continental U.S. will begin to become infected with locally-transmitted Zika as temperatures rise and mosquito activity increases. The mosquitoes that carry the disease are already in the United States.

So far, there have been more than 500 cases of Zika in the continental United States, but all of them have been connected to travel to Latin America or the Caribbean — the areas hardest hit by the disease.

The Senate compromise provides $800 million less than the $1.9 billion that President Obama has been seeking since February. But it is far more than the House is proposing. Republican House leaders introduced legislation Monday that would provide $622 million in Zika funding, which they would pay for in part by using money allocated to fight Ebola. The House bill could come to a vote as early as this week.

The Obama administration, which is already using nearly $600 million in Ebola funds to fight Zika, threatened Tuesday to veto the House bill if it passes and is sent to the president’s desk. Although the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been controlled, health officials say new outbreaks of the deadly disease could occur.

“While the administration appreciates that the Congress is finally taking action to address the Zika virus, the funding provided in (the House bill) is woefully inadequate to support the response our public health experts say is needed,” the White House said in a statement.

The administration has not threatened to veto the Senate’s $1.1 billion compromise bill.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said the White House has not provided “full accounting and justification for its request for Zika funds.”

“Given the severity of the Zika crisis and the global health threat, we cannot afford to wait on the administration any longer,” Rogers said. “We have made our own funding determinations, using what information is available and through discussions with federal agencies, to craft a proposal to fight the spread of this damaging disease.”

The Zika virus poses the biggest threat to pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant. It has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and incomplete brain development.

“Let’s not play with fire here,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who pleaded with senators to support an amendment he offered with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to provide the full $1.9 billion in funding that the Obama administration and health officials sought. “This is a devastating disease.”

The Rubio-Nelson amendment failed after most Republicans opposed it. Blunt said the Obama administration’s $1.9 billion funding request included money for non-emergency items, including $85 million for building construction at the Centers for Disease Control and a “slush fund” of $175 million that could be transferred to any federal agency.

Blunt said the $1.1 billion in the compromise bill that advanced Tuesday would last through the end of fiscal 2017 and would “meet this crisis and meet it now.”

Senators rejected a third option offered by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to provide $1.1 billion that would have been offset by cuts to Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Democrats opposed that plan, saying it would undermine Zika aid by weakening the public health system needed to help combat the virus.

Senate advances compromise bill to provide $1.1 billion to combat Zika – USA TODAY

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