Congress headed for recess without Zika funding deal

The fate of a $1.1 billion package to fight the Zika virus has been thrown into flux after the abrupt collapse of bipartisan talks Wednesday.

The breakdown between Republicans and Democrats in both chambers has delayed any action on Zika until after the Fourth of July recess.

{mosads}GOP leaders announced late Wednesday they had reached a deal on Zika, but without the support of the dozen or so Democrats who had previously been involved. The GOP’s bill passed the House in a hurried vote around 3 a.m. Thursday amid a dramatic Democratic gun control protest.

The sharply partisan proposal bill is now headed to the Senate, where Democrats say it is doomed in its current form. The bill is expected to prompt a formal veto threat from the White House later Thursday.

The House is out of session until July 5, and the Senate’s holiday recess begins next Thursday.

Among the biggest concerns with the Republican bill is that it injects specific language to prevent funding from going to Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups, a move that one women’s health group called “a slap in the face.”

While the House-passed bill includes the same amount of total funding as the Senate’s initial bipartisan bill, most comes from existing funds in the administration’s health department.

It takes about $500 million from an existing ObamaCare fund for state health exchanges and redirects it for the anti-Zika effort. About $100 million designated for the 2014 Ebola epidemic would also be repurposed for Zika, something federal officials strongly oppose.

The failure to pass a Zika funding bill before the holiday, a self-appointed goal for GOP leaders, could be politically troubling for both parties.

Public health experts, as well as state and local leaders, warn of an imminent outbreak the U.S. The virus, which can be spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact, is known to cause severe birth defects. So far, about 400 pregnant women in the U.S. states and territories have already tested positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would receive the most funding under any Zika bill in Congress, has declined to specifically comment on the latest House-passed bill other than to ask for swift action.

“CDC remains hopeful that Congress will quickly finalize and pass a comprehensive bill that meets critical needs without exposing Americans to other dangerous health threats,” the health agency wrote in a statement Thursday.

Democrats say one of their biggest concerns about the bill — and one that would be expected to prompt a White House veto — is that Republicans are targeting women’s health groups.

“Preventing funding from going to Planned Parenthood? That’s a poison pill,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday.

Schumer, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the GOP’s plan had become “a hard-right wish list” that had no chance of landing on the president’s desk.

The bill appears dead on arrival in the Senate. Even with support from all 54 Senate Republicans, it bill would fall short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.

When asked about the next step for the bill, Schumer said, “Don’t know, we’ll have to see.”

But he left the door open to a move by Senate Republicans to tweak the language of the House-passed Zika bill before it reaches the upper chamber: He said the final bill hasn’t been released yet.  

“It hasn’t come out yet, but it has all the things that they put in it, all these external poison pills, I don’t see how it would pass,” Schumer said. “We have to see the bill first.”

It’s unclear whether the House’s bill, which was a conference committee report, could still be amended before reaching the Senate.

The Zika bill’s primary source of funding for healthcare is allowed only to go to health departments, hospitals or other providers that are “reimbursed through public health plans,” according to the House-passed bill’s text.

“Family planning clinics are excluded, which is simply nuts,” said Donna Crane, vice president of policy at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“[The Republican bill] significantly hampers America’s ability to respond to the Zika virus by cutting off the very clinics in the neighborhoods that are going to need these services.”


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