House Passes $622 Million Bill To Fight Zika

May 19, 2016

House Republicans on Wednesday pushed through a $622 million bill to battle the Zika virus, setting up challenging negotiations with the Senate and the White House.

The 241-184 House vote broke mostly along party lines as Democrats lined up in opposition, heeding a White House veto threat and a warning from a top government health official that the bill wouldn’t do enough to respond to the growing threat from Zika.

“It’s just not enough,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said of the House measure.

Overall, President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion three months ago for the fight against Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact and can cause severe birth defects. The Senate is moving ahead this week with a $1.1 billion plan and agreed with Mr. Obama that the money should be added to the budget deficit rather than be offset with cuts to other programs.

The House bill, however, provides one-third of the request and limits the use of the money to the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30. It cuts funds provided in 2014 to fight Ebola to help offset the cost of the additional Zika money.

Republicans had pressed for the funding shift as a first step to battle Zika and they say the pending measure will carry the battle at least through Sept. 30.

“Everything that has needed to be done has been done,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.)

On Tuesday, the Senate advanced a $1.1 billion measure to fight Zika that earned sweeping support from Democrats even though it is less than the White House requested. It is soon to be added to an unrelated spending bill, which adds a procedural wrinkle since the House bill will advance as a separate stand-alone measure.

The White House says the House plan is inadequate and has threatened to veto it. Asked Wednesday about the compromise Senate measure, however, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “I don’t have a veto threat to issue.”