House and Senate at odds on Zika funding plans

Marco Rubio sounds alarm on Zika
Marco Rubio sounds alarm on Zika

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Story highlights

  • House Republicans unveiled a $622 million proposal on Monday
  • That's about half of the $1.1 billion that a bipartisan Senate group is pushing

Washington (CNN)The Republican-controlled House and Senate are on a collision course about how to deal with the spread of the Zika, pushing separate proposals for federal funding to combat the virus, and complicating efforts to deliver emergency money quickly to agencies hoping to develop a vaccine and head off new cases.

The Zika virus causes microcephaly and other birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can be spread through mosquito bites.
    House Republicans unveiled a $622 million proposal on Monday -- about half of the $1.1 billion that a bipartisan Senate group is pushing, and far short of the initial $1.9 billion request from the White House that President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats are pressuring Republicans to approve.
    House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, who has pressed the Obama administration to justify how it would spend the amount it wanted, said it was time to move a separate plan.
    "Given the severity of the Zika crisis and the global health threat, we cannot afford to wait on the administration any longer. 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," Rogers said in a statement.
    Democrats immediately rejected the proposal, saying it wasn't enough money.
    "Without full funding, private sector work on vaccines and diagnostic testing will be delayed due to the lack of multi-year funding commitments. State and local public health emergency preparedness grants will be underfunded, hampering efforts to control mosquito populations," New York Rep Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House spending panel said.
    The House is expected to vote on Rogers' proposal as early as Wednesday.
    Top Democrats also blasted Republicans for using unspent federal funds earmarked to address the threat of the Ebola virus, which infected some U.S. health workers in 2014, but had a devastating impact in several African countries. They argue emergency measures shouldn't need to be "offset" with cuts to other programs, citing previous congressional aid packages to help flood, fire and other natural disaster victims.
    "Despite the devastating impacts of Zika, I'm sorry to say the Republican Congress doesn't see this virus as an issue," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said in a floor speech. "Months ago, President Obama requested almost $2 billion to fight Zika and for the same months Republicans refused to give month America needs to fight this crisis."
    The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on three competing funding proposal to fight Zika, each of which would provide considerably more money than the House proposal.
    The first -- offered by the bipartisan pair of senators from Florida, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson -- would fully fund Obama's request but it is expected to be defeated, senators and aides from each party predicted. The second, authored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would provide about half of Obama's request but would require cost offsets elsewhere in the budget. That also is not expected to get the 60 votes it would need to defeat an expected filibuster for passage.
    The third is on a compromise proposal reached by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington. It's expected to pass, but it now faces an uncertain future when House and Senate negotiators try to hammer out a compromise between the chambers.
    "They're playing political games with a public health emergency. That's inexcusable," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told CNN.
    Durbin described the offer from House Republicans as an "embarrassment."
    House Republicans say that their $622 million proposal comes on top of the $589 million in Ebola funds the administration has been able to access, for a total of $1.2 billion to fight Zika.