Senate Democrats block Zika agreement ahead of recess
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a deal providing funding for the fight against the Zika virus, virtually guaranteeing that Congress won't get legislation to President Obama's desk this month.

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In a 52-48 vote, the Senate fell eight votes short of moving past a procedural hurdle against the House-Senate conference report on a military and veterans spending bill, which includes $1.1 billion to fund the Zika virus research.

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (D-Ind.) broke with his party and backed moving forward with the deal. GOP Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough MORE (R-Utah) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.) voted against the Zika deal. McConnell's "no" vote allows him to bring the measure back up for another vote.

The vote leaves the current fight over the Zika virus at a standstill with days left before the July 4th recess.

Democrats criticized the legislation for including "poison pills" that they said made it difficult for their party to support. 

The legislation would take money now earmarked for the fight against the Ebola virus to use against Zika. 

It also would restart a fight over Planned Parenthood with language that prevents funding from going to the group, which provides abortion services, and other family planning groups.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) said the agreement is "the most irresponsible legislation I have ever seen in my 34 years in Congress."

"I don't know what planet my friend the Republican leader is living on," he added. "[The] conference report is nothing more than a goody bag for the fringes of the Republican Party."

Even if the legislation had made it to President Obama's desk, the White House said he would veto it.

McConnell slammed Democrats on Tuesday, saying their current position is "partisan politics."

"They might like to pretend this Zika control measure is woefully inadequate, but Senate Democrats are all on record supporting this level of funding," he said. "It's really puzzling to hear Democrats claim to be advocates for women's health measures when they are the ones trying to block the Zika legislation."

The House approved the legislation last week. 

 

The next steps on the Zika legislation are unclear. Lawmakers in both parties pointed fingers ahead of Tuesday's vote on who is responsible for breaking the current stalemate on funding legislation.

Reid and other Democrats sent a letter to McConnell and  Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) ahead of Tuesday's vote calling for a new round of negotiations.

"We are writing to urge your cooperation in quickly negotiating an agreement that rejects politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities," the Senate's four top Democrats added in the letter.

But the House left Washington last week for the July 4th recess, and GOP leadership have given no indications they are willing to rethink the current agreement. 

McConnell said lawmakers would vote again on the Zika deal once senators return from the July 4th recess.

"When we get back after we've had time to think about it all, we'll address this matter again and hopefully respond, as our constituents all across America are asking us to respond, to this pending health care crisis," he said after the vote.

The stalemate comes after a bipartisan Senate agreement — negotiated by Murray and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns MORE (R-Mo.) – began to crack open in late April as Democrats said they were frozen out of the talks.

The deal finally collapsed last week after GOP leaders in the House and Senate agreed to a $1.1 billion deal comprised mostly of healthcare dollars pulled from elsewhere in Obama’s health department.

The U.S. has a total of 2,680 Zika cases, including 481 pregnant women, according to the most recent data from CDC.

--Sarah Ferris contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:02 p.m.