House GOP pushes $1.1 billion Zika bill through Dem sit-in

House GOP pushes $1.1 billion Zika bill through Dem sit-in
© Greg Nash/The Hill

House Republicans on Thursday approved a spending bill that includes a controversial $1.1 billion plan to fight the Zika virus in a late-night vote over Democrat protests.

The 239-171 vote occurred in the 15th hour of a dramatic sit-in protest by dozens of Democrats demanding votes on gun control bills.  

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced the long-awaited Zika deal late Wednesday evening, describing it as a “responsible compromise that can and should be signed into law.”

Lawmakers also approved $82.5 billion to train and maintain U.S. military forces, fund veterans programs, and offer housing and services to military families. Those funding levels are $2.6 billion more than last year’s totals and $372 million less than President Obama’s request.

Democrats were rejecting the GOP’s Zika response plan as inadequate even before its formal release.

The funding package falls short of Obama’s $1.9 billion request, and only about $400 million is new spending.

The rest, about $750 million, is money that would be shuffled from other health department priorities, including an ObamaCare program and a fund set up to fight Ebola in 2014.

Rogers said his bill, “unlike the administration’s request,” would give more specific charges to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight Zika. It also specifically carves out money for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Health Organization amid the worsening international outbreak.

About 1,436 people, including 500 pregnant women, in the U.S. have confirmed cases of the virus, which is known to cause birth defects, according to CDC data released last week. Worldwide, 60 countries have reported widespread outbreaks. The disease, which is largely harmless to healthy adults, is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contact.

GOP aides pointed out Wednesday that the compromise package included the same level of funding as the Senate’s package, which had earned Democratic support.

But the new plan also covers its costs using the same controversial measures included in the House GOP’s $622 million Zika virus plan, which Obama threatened to veto.

House GOP leaders announced around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday that they would move forward with the Zika bill, and it reached the floor around 3 a.m. Thursday as the gun control protests continued. 

Democrats have long been on a collision course with Republicans over Zika. Only a handful of Republican lawmakers — nearly all representing Southern states most vulnerable to an outbreak — had said they supported Obama’s full request.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats said Wednesday they would refuse to sign the bicameral conference committee report, which also covers appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction.

“A narrowly partisan proposal that cuts off women's access to birth control, shortchanges veterans and rescinds Obamacare funds to cover the cost is not a serious response to the threat from the Zika virus," Reid said in a statement.

After the bill passed, Ryan urged the Senate to move the plan forward.

“This is a significant step forward in the fight against Zika. It is a responsible plan that assures the administration will continue to have the needed resources to protect the public," he said in a statement. "Given the urgency of the Zika threat, I hope Senate Democrats will rise above politics so we can get this done.”