Pelosi calls for new emergency fund to tackle Zika-like crises

Pelosi calls for new emergency fund to tackle Zika-like crises
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is calling for the creation of a new federal fund designed specifically to address unforeseen crises like the Zika virus outbreak.
 
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Pelosi said the partisan standoff over funding to combat Zika that has continued for most of the year is evidence enough that Congress needs to devise a new "FEMA-like" system that can respond to similar emergencies more quickly.
 
"These are emergencies, unforeseen occurrences that endanger the health and well-being of the American people just the way a natural disaster does," Pelosi said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. "So perhaps [Democrats and Republicans] can come together ... to put together a flow of funds from a dedicated account for endangerment of the public welfare, similar to a natural disaster but it might be a mosquito."
 
The Zika virus, which is spread primarily by mosquito bites, has been shown to cause severe birth defects. Health officials say they are out of money to fight its spread in the U.S. without action by lawmakers.
 
But GOP leaders are struggling to approve new funds for Zika research and prevention. As of Wednesday, 18,833 Zika cases had been reported in the states and U.S. territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, almost 3,000 were pregnant women. 
 
Senate Republicans on Tuesday tried to pass a $1.1 billion Zika bill, but Democrats rallied to block it over their opposition to a GOP provision that effectively bars Planned Parenthood from receiving funding for contraception.
 
The impasse makes it increasingly likely money for Zika will ultimately be attached to a short-term government spending package, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to prevent a federal shutdown on Oct. 1. Because of expected conservative opposition to certain elements of the CR, House Democrats will likely have leverage in the fight. 
 
Pelosi on Thursday said there's no time to accomplish her emergency-fund proposal as part of the CR debate. But she did offer a list of demands surrounding any Zika-related legislation.
 
First, the bill must be free of extra provisions, dropping the Planned Parenthood language and excluding other riders. 
 
"We want no poison pills," she said.
 
Second, the Zika money must be sufficient to fund the affected health agencies for at least one year. 
 
"I mean for a year," Pelosi said. "I don't mean for three months, because we just can't go through this every few months."
 
And third, she's calling for the bill not to be offset by pulling funds from other programs. 
 
"It is a national emergency, and we should not have to cannibalize other accounts that are very important to the well-being of the American people," she said.
 
It's on the third point that Pelosi is hinging her proposal for a new "FEMA-like" fund. Congress passed its 2016 budget before Zika struck, she argued, so why should money be shifted out of existing programs to tackle an unexpected calamity?
 
"When we did the budget agreement last year, and when we did the appropriations, there was no discussion of [Zika or opioids or the Flint water crisis]," she said. "Yet, now the Republicans are saying, 'Whatever we do to address those needs has to come out of last year's budget agreement.' No. These are emergencies."
 
The Republicans have a different view, however, insisting that at least part of the new funding to fight Zika come from other programs, including efforts to tackle the Ebola virus. 
 
House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday that Republicans would prefer a fully offset Zika bill, suggesting GOP leaders have conceded as much as they will on that front.
 
"I will remind you that this plan is a compromise," he said. "It is the full funding level that the Senate supported and it is only partially offset."
 
Pelosi seemed to acknowledge that Democrats might not succeed on determining how the bill is funded. 
 
"We'll see how we come out of that," she said.