White House shoots down using Ebola money to fight Zika

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The White House on Friday brushed aside a House Republican proposal to use leftover Ebola funding to fight the Zika virus. 

“The important work that the United States has done to fight Ebola and to protect the American people from Ebola is not done,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday. 

{mosads}“It’s critically important that we follow through on those efforts, and it would be profoundly unwise to take money away from the ongoing effort that’s needed to fight Ebola,” he added. 

The Obama administration has requested $1.8 billion in emergency funds to combat Zika in the U.S. and abroad. The money would be put toward researching vaccines and developing better diagnostics to identify the relatively unknown virus, which has been found in Latin America and the U.S.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) shot down the administration’s request on Thursday, saying health officials should first use Ebola money before seeking new funding for Zika. 

In a letter to President Obama’s budget director, Shaun Donovan, Rogers noted the Department of Health and Human Services has $1.4 billion allocated for the Ebola fight of 2014. And the State Department has $1.3 billion left over.

“These funds can and should be prioritized to meet the most pressing needs of mounting a rapid and full response to Zika,” Rogers and two other Republican committee members wrote. 

The White House will likely ask that “some” Ebola funds be “repurposed” for the anti-Zika effort but not so much that it would “undermine” the response to Ebola, Earnest said, adding that amount “would not be sufficient to take on what we believe is a pretty serious threat from the Zika virus.”

The disease poses little risk to healthy adults but has been linked to severe birth defects when pregnant women contract the virus.

Earnest did not specify how much Ebola funding it would ask to be put toward Zika or when the administration’s formal request would be sent to Capitol Hill. 

“There’s no reason that something like keeping the American people safe from the Zika virus should be some sort of partisan fight,” he said. 

Sarah Ferris contributed.

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