McConnell unveils new Zika funding package

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans on Thursday released the latest draft of a $1.1 billion funding package to fight the Zika virus, and it contains some of the controversial funding offsets that Democrats have long opposed.  

The proposal, which is included in the 160-page stopgap spending bill, would put an end to partisan fights over Planned Parenthood and pesticide use that have helped hold up Zika funding since February.

{mosads}The legislation unveiled Thursday scraps previous provisions that would have relaxed the rules for pesticides in the name of fighting Zika and block a Planned Parenthood partner in Puerto Rico from receiving any new money to help Zika-infected pregnant women.

But the long-awaited funding package also includes $400 million in offsets that will likely draw ire from Democrats: The package is partly paid for using the State Department’s unused money to fight the Ebola virus and leftover ObamaCare funding from when local officials decided not to set up exchanges.

But the bill is not fully paid for, which could set up a sticking point for House Republicans.

The text of the Zika package was revealed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday afternoon as he dragged the fight over the government funding bill into public view.

The Senate is expected to vote on the package next week, just ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government. Meanwhile, federal health agencies have warned their resources are running dry, and so far 2,000 pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories have tested positive for the disease, which can cause severe birth defects.

Senate Democrats swiftly hit the GOP’s spending bill, without commenting on the Zika funding package, and condemned their Republican counterparts for releasing the 160-page bill before reaching an agreement.

McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped to reach a deal last week, but partisan provisions, which also included internet domain regulations and Louisiana flooding relief, have held up the package.

The $1.1 billion funding package falls short of President Obama’s $1.9 billion request from February. But Republicans argue that the White House would have a total of $1.7 billion available when taking into account money that the administration has already repurposed from its Ebola virus funds.

The bill includes $394 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been vocal about running out of money by the end of September. It also includes $152 million for the National Institutes of Health.

Far less money would be specifically designated for public health efforts overseas; Central and South American countries have been the hardest hit by the virus. The package includes $14.6 million to State Department and $10 million for USAID.

About $66 million is specifically designated for Puerto Rico, which has reported more than 19,000 cases of the virus as of this week. The White House had requested about $225 million for Puerto Rico, as well as two other territories – American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands – that have also reported cases. 

Tags Harry Reid Mitch McConnell

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