Congress approves $1.1B in Zika funds

Congress approves $1.1B in Zika funds
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House passage of a government funding bill late Wednesday night means that funding for the Zika virus has finally been approved. 

The measure included $1.1 billion in funding to fight the virus, capping a fierce months-long debate over the money that dismayed public health experts who called for speedily approving funding.

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Democrats hailed the passage, arguing that they had held strong and forced Republicans to drop their limitations on the money away from Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico. 

“It took far too long—but I am very glad that we were finally able to pass a robust bipartisan Zika response that actually protects the women and families who need it most,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayCBO to release report Tuesday on ending ObamaCare insurer payments OPINION | Progressives, now's your chance to secure healthcare for all McConnell open to bipartisan deal on health insurance payments MORE (D-Wash.), one of the lead Democratic negotiators, said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate earlier Wednesday. 

“Women’s health should never be treated like a political football, so I am glad that Republicans finally agreed to set aside the extreme provisions that would have specifically blocked Planned Parenthood health care providers from accessing critical funding,” she added. 

The money will go towards areas like vaccine research and mosquito control. 

The White House first requested $1.9 billion in funds to fight Zika. Republicans initially resisted the request, before finally putting forward their own $1.1 billion Zika funding bill in July, before Congress left for the summer recess. 

But Democrats blocked that measure, objecting primarily to the limitation on funding for Planned Parenthood. 

The combination of these events meant that Congress left town for its summer recess without approving new funding. Transmission of the virus by mosquitoes has since begun in several areas in Florida. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are 3,358 Zika cases in the U.S. states (mostly from people who acquired it abroad and travelled back), and 19,777 cases in U.S. territories. 

The Obama administration twice shifted funds from other areas, including the response to Ebola, arguing that they were given no choice by Congress’s inaction and could not risk a slowdown in vaccine development.  

The funding bill also includes $7 million in new funding to fight opioid abuse, until the measure expires on Dec. 9. That funding will allow for a head start on new programs created in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed this year. Democrats have argued that this funding is inadequate.

The White House has pushed for much more: $1.1 billion in funds.