U.S. Congress shrugs off guns, Zika as summer break nears

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2016 10:08 AM

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is headed for a seven-week recess without addressing gun violence, the Zika virus outbreak and other pressing issues, amid persistent election-year bickering.

Despite recent gun violence, the House of Representatives will not vote this week on a proposal to keep firearms out of the hands of people on terrorism watch lists, that chamber's Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

Similarly, President Barack Obama's request for $1.9 billion in funds to combat the Zika virus and the birth defects it can cause has been stalled in Congress since February.

Republicans and Democrats were also at odds over spending bills that would keep the government functioning beyond Sept. 30, when current fiscal year funding expires.

When Republicans took over control of Congress, they vowed to get things done, but have had difficulty doing so during this election year, failing to pass a budget or even consider Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

It did, however, approve bipartisan legislation helping Puerto Rico climb out of a crippling debt crisis and is trying to make progress on legislation aimed at improving police relations with local communities in the aftermath of gun violence.

With only four days left before the start of an unusually long recess, a failure to vote on guns this week would postpone any possible action by the House on the issue until Sept. 6 at the earliest. That is when lawmakers will return from break.

After that, lawmakers will be working only for short stints ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential and congressional elections.

A June 12 mass shooting in Orlando and gun violence in Dallas and other cities has again propelled gun control to prominence, but the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress so far have staved off even bipartisan legislation.

Gun control is generally opposed by Republicans and supported by Democrats. Some Republicans have talked about a gun bill possibly moving through Congress in the fall, in the midst of the campaign season, but Democrats were skeptical.

"This Congress will do nothing on curbing gun violence," Representative Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the House Democratic leadership, told reporters.

There is even disagreement about whether House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi talked about a Democratic proposal to establish a special committee on gun violence. Democrats say Pelosi raised the issue with Ryan after the Dallas shootings. Ryan's office says he has never discussed the topic with anyone.

Republicans in the House and Senate have signed off on a $1.1 billion Zika funding bill, but Democrats are balking over what they see as "poison pills" attached to the money that would deny funds to women's healthcare provider Planned Parenthood and ease some environmental provisions.

House Speaker Paul Ryan meanwhile showcased his "A Better Way" agenda, flashing a glossy pamphlet at a press conference listing a set of proposals designed to lure votes in November's elections but do nothing this year legislatively.

Republicans have also pushed for new federal probes of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on her use of private emails while secretary of state.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Kouichi Shirayanagi; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)