By Mike Lillis - 02/23/16 03:56 PM EST
Hoyer blasts GOP plan to use Ebola cash in Zika fight
The second-ranking House Democrat on Tuesday went after the Republicans' plan to tap Ebola funds to fight the Zika virus.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, said the continuing threat posed by Ebola means Congress should allocate separate funds to combat Zika.
"The Republican suggestion is very short-sighted. Ebola has not disappeared," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.
"We need to handle both the containment of Ebola — and not take our eye off the Ebola ball so we don't have people threatened by Ebola — while at the same time addressing the Zika problem separately."
The Obama administration has requested roughly $1.8 billion from Congress to address the little-known Zika virus, which has spread from Latin America into the United States.
But Republican appropriators last week rejected that appeal, arguing that officials should first dip into an existing fund to fight Ebola.
In a letter sent Thursday to Obama's budget director Shaun DonovanShaun DonovanObama requests .6B in aid for Louisiana floods Overnight Cybersecurity: Privacy Shield takes effect Reid: McConnell 'stringing us along' on Zika MORE, the Republicans said the administration has roughly $2.7 billion in unused Ebola funds that should go to the Zika fight.
“If the aim of the request is to mount as rapid a response as possible, it is clear to us that the most expeditious way to identify the needed funding is to maximize the use of unobligated funds previously provided for Ebola response, prevention, and preparedness," the letter reads.
"If additional funds are then needed to backfill the use of these funds in the future, we stand ready to consider such a request as part of the FY 2017 appropriations process."
The letter was endorsed by Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.); State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay GrangerKay GrangerGOP divided over 0M for climate fund GOP votes down funding for global climate fund Overnight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left MORE (R-Texas); and Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
The White House was quick to push back, with spokesman Josh Earnest blasting the Republicans' plan as "profoundly unwise."
“The important work that the United States has done to fight Ebola and to protect the American people from Ebola is not done,” Earnest told reporters Friday.
Hoyer is siding squarely with the White House.
"There was a great almost-panic about Ebola. It turned out that we got it under control pretty quickly — very few incidents here in the United States, and getting all of it internationally," he said.
"We need to continue to make sure that's the case and not take our eye off that ball because we have another ball that's bouncing over here."
Hoyer said he's in discussions with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about a path forward.
"We're working together on the Zika issue," he said, "and I hope we can come up with a bipartisan action."