GOP drops hints in budget showdown

GOP drops hints in budget showdown
© Greg Nash

Republican leaders have three weeks to settle a dispute over Planned Parenthood if they want to pass legislation to fight the Zika virus while avoiding a government shutdown at the end of this month.


A shutdown is unlikely but possible given promises from GOP leaders to Florida Republicans that money for the Zika fight would be included in a package to keep the government operating after Sept. 30.

The Zika funds have been held up for months because of a dispute over the funding bill’s language, which would make Planned Parenthood’s chapter in Puerto Rico ineligible for the Zika grants.

Some Republicans are already signaling that they may have to drop their fight over the family planning grants, though that concession could stir another fight with House conservatives just weeks ahead of Election Day.

Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE (R-Ky.) nor Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party MORE (R-Wis.) has said how he would end the standoff.

“I do believe we’ll find some kind of resolution,” Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station on Tuesday, laying blame on Senate Democrats for blocking the GOP’s funding bills. “I anticipate by the end of this month something will get done, but the House has already done its job, and we’ll see if the Senate can get its act together.”

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision MORE (Texas), told reporters Tuesday that he expects the bill to be wrapped into this month’s stopgap government spending bill, though he dismissed Democrats’ concerns about Planned Parenthood as a “phony objection.”

Other top Republicans, including Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Bolton charge ups ante in witness showdown Trump team doubles down despite Bolton bombshell Bolton upends Trump impeachment trial  MORE (Mo.), a former House GOP leader who faces a competitive reelection race this year, are already making the case for dropping the divisive language.

“For this to get done, that language just may have to go away,” Blunt told McClatchy.

Senate Republican leaders made a final attempt Tuesday to win support for their controversial $1.1 billion funding bill, which has been repeatedly blocked by Democrats.

It failed in a 52-46 procedural vote.

After eight months of failed attempts to pass a bill, multiple lawmakers say they now expect the Zika fight to be wrapped into the short-term spending bill that Congress must pass by Sept. 30.

House Democrats, including the head of the health appropriations panel, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), say Zika funding is “at the top of Democrats’ list” going into talks on the stopgap spending bill known as a continuing resolution.

The loudest voices advocating for the Zika money are in Florida, which is ground zero for the virus in mainland United States. Even the most conservative members of Congress from Florida say they’re ready to retreat from the fight over Planned Parenthood if it means passing a funding bill immediately.

“Take everything out of it except Zika funding, and don’t put any riders in it,” Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoThe US must to continue to prioritize research and development, especially through NASA The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - An unusual day: Impeachment plus a trade deal MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill last week.

“Let’s just pass this. Let’s get the Zika funding done. Let’s do these other fights later. My goal will be to minimize any of the controversial elements,” Yoho said.

The $622 million Zika bill approved by the House doesn’t even include the words “Planned Parenthood,” a group that provides contraception and abortion services, and for years has been a top target of Republicans. It would prevent Profamilias, the Planned Parenthood chapter in Puerto Rico, from obtaining Zika funds. It does so by limiting the money to public health departments and hospitals, as well as through public health plans.

Another incentive for GOP leaders in both chambers to find an answer to the spread of Zika without opening up a fight over Planned Parenthood is the Senate majority.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision GOP lawmaker: UK-Huawei deal could force US to 'reexamine' intelligence-sharing partnership MORE’s decision to re-enter the Senate race has left the Florida Republican as the favorite to keep the seat. He’s long urged Republicans to support President Obama’s full $1.9 billion funding request for the Zika fight.

House Republicans may be more willing to support the Zika funding bill — even without the Planned Parenthood provisions — if it means helping Rubio keep his seat this fall and potentially retaining control of the Senate.

Florida is the only part of the continental U.S. where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are actively transmitting the disease, and public health experts say there are about two months left of mosquito season there.

The virus, which is mostly spread by mosquitoes, has infected at least 16,832 people in the U.S., including territories, up from 4,210 people when Congress left for recess in mid-July.

Of those with Zika now, 1 in 10 is a pregnant woman, putting the babies at risk of a lifelong birth defect caused by the virus.

Since February, the White House has moved about $374 million from its Ebola virus funding pool and another $81 million from biomedical research, to keep money flowing at agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.

Some Republicans say the White House’s ability to move money around this summer proves their argument that Democrats have been asking for more money than they need.

Federal health officials, including Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, have tried to make clear that the agency wasn’t just sitting on spare cash. Frieden said the CDC took money from programs devoted to immunization, HIV prevention and disease tracking.  

Frieden said that his agency has spent or budgeted almost all of the $222 million it has borrowed from the federal health department.

“Basically, we’re out of money,” Frieden told reporters last week, delivering his most urgent appeal to lawmakers since February to approve at least some of the Obama administration’s $1.9 billion request. “Congress needs to do something.”

If the Zika funding isn’t included in the September spending bill, the federal health department likely wouldn’t see more money until this winter, after Election Day.

Public health groups like the March of Dimes say they’re hearing from mosquito-­control experts that it may already be too late.

“By the time money were provided and could be dispersed, it would be October or November. At that point, you can prepare the next year, but at this point you have squandered a prevention season,” Cindy Pellegrini, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs for March of Dimes, said in an interview last week.