House GOP to unveil Zika funding measure next week

AP News
Posted: May 13, 2016 12:13 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Republican lawmaker said Friday he'll unveil additional funding next week to battle the Zika virus in hopes of a quick vote in the GOP-controlled House.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said the anti-Zika measure will be financed by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The Kentucky Republican briefed colleagues on the measure Friday morning and spoke to reporters afterward. While short on details, Rogers' measure is expected to provide significantly less than a bipartisan $1.1 billion Senate measure that was released on Thursday. The Senate measure declares combating Zika an "emergency" and provides its funding on top of the current $1.1 trillion limit on agency budgets.

The administration has already diverted about $600 million in previously appropriated funds to combat Zika, which can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect, as well as other severe health problems. House Republicans are insisting that there's plenty of additional money sloshing around various agencies that can be used to help battle Zika.

"There's a variety of sources for offsets," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "There's certainly plenty of money available, and remember this is on top of $600 million." Among the potential sources is a portion of the $5 billion provided in 2014 to battle Ebola.

The government's Zika response includes efforts to suppress the mosquitoes that can spread the virus and rapid response teams to tackle any hot spots. There's also funding needed by the National Institutes of Health for research into a vaccine. And the administration wants additional money to battle the virus overseas in places such as South and Central America.

The Senate measure, negotiated by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., is relatively close to what the White House has asked for, except it does not pay back already-tapped Ebola money and give Puerto Rico — a major Zika hotspot — help with its Medicaid program.

Rogers said the House legislation would advance as a stand-alone measure; the Senate proposal is likely to be woven together with two separate spending bills next week, including a widely popular measure funding veterans' programs.

The administration is urging lawmakers to deliver additional anti-Zika funds before Congress recesses for Memorial Day, but a more likely deadline is early-to mid-July, when lawmakers exit Washington for a seven-week recess dictated by earlier-than-usual national political conventions.