White House ramps up Zika funding fight

White House ramps up Zika funding fight
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Senior administration officials say they are not walking away from the months-long Zika funding fight with the GOP, even after conceding on a key issue.
 
The White House said Wednesday it is now forced to dip into a funding pool reserved for the Ebola virus to fight Zika — an approach that the administration had previously dismissed as it pushed Congress to approve new funding.
 
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will ramp up “immediate, time-critical” efforts to stop the spread of the virus, which remains difficult to diagnose with no vaccines or treatments available.  
 
While announcing plans to move about $500 million toward Zika efforts, Obama’s top health and budget leaders lashed out at Congress for ignoring their $2 billion funding request.
 
“We should not play with fire here. We should not risk spreading and getting out of control before Congress acts. They need to move immediately,” Shaun DonovanShaun L. S. DonovanHouse Dems call on OMB to analyze Senate budget plan Overnight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules MORE, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters Wednesday. 
 
Donovan declined to say how long the extra money would last in the fight against the Zika virus. But he said without more funding, U.S. health agencies would need to downsize their response  “within months.”
 
“There are real consequences and risks in waiting,” Donovan said.
 
The Zika virus, which is mostly spread by mosquitoes, has moved rapidly across South and Central America. Researchers say the virus is linked to a severe birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
 
The effects of the virus are mild in adults, but Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told reporters that global concerns are warranted because of the substantial risks of birth defects. 
 
“Panic is not a word I would want to ever use, but what I think we’re doing is clearly articulating the needs and the steps we need to take,” Burwell said when asked about her own level of concern.
 
The Zika virus is expected to begin spreading in the southern U.S. sometime in the “spring and summer months,” Burwell said Wednesday. Already, as many as 60 pregnant women in the U.S. may have been exposed to the virus, she said. One baby infected with Zika has been born with microcephaly.  
 
The administration’s decision to move a half-billion dollars' worth of Ebola funds is a partial concession after warning for months that the approach would shortchange the long-term Ebola strategy. 
 
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday pressured Congress to pass the administration’s full funding request. 
 
He called the move to shift Ebola funding to the Zika fight “a temporary fix."
 
Earnest appeared exasperated that lawmakers have balked at approving the funding request given that, unlike Ebola, health officials have advance warning of the Zika virus’ spread. 
 
“Everybody now is predicting months in advance we are going to see more cases of Zika in the United States,” he said. "We have an opportunity to do something about it in advance. But Congress has completely abdicated their responsibility.
 
“Now it’s time for Congress to do its job for a change.”
 
GOP leaders, led by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), have remained firm that they would not approve the White House’s request while there was more than $1 billion in Ebola funding still in the health department’s coffers. 
 
Donovan said the administration was not letting up its calls for an additional $2 billion to fight Zika.
 
Global health officials officially declared an end to the Ebola emergency late last month. 
 
U.S. health agencies have argued that Congress already approved funding for a plan to build up disease response systems to prevent outbreaks similar to Ebola, which killed 11,00 people.
 
Jordan Fabian contributed.
 
Updated at 1:23 p.m.