White House, GOP play blame game on Zika

White House, GOP play blame game on Zika
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The White House and GOP leaders are pointing fingers over the stalled effort to increase funding for the fight against the Zika virus. 

The Obama administration has ramped up attacks on Republicans this week, accusing them of holding up billions of dollars needed to prevent a widespread outbreak of the disease

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But House leaders say the Obama administration has actually delayed the funding by ignoring recent letters and refusing to answer questions about what one lawmaker called a $2 billion "slush fund."

Tensions erupted on Thursday as House GOP offices and the White House released competing timelines of meetings, briefings and letters to reporters aimed at pinning blame on the other side. 

“Rather than writing letters, we would appreciate Republicans actually doing their job and actually passing legislation that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with protecting people who might be vulnerable to the Zika virus,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a briefing on Thursday after he was repeatedly asked about a series of letters from Republican lawmakers. 

One day earlier, Congress appeared to make headway on the two-month-old Zika funding fight.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said for the first time on Wednesday his staff was drafting a bill to approve more funding before the end of the year — an announcement that surprised even the committee’s Democratic staff.

House GOP leaders say they are willing to support a supplemental funding request but are waiting on the White House to provide more numbers, specifically how much money is needed in 2016.

“The original request they have given us is merely an outline, without the proper budget documents, language, or justifications,” a spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee wrote in a statement on Thursday, which was also distributed by the Speaker’s office.

Earnest defended the White House’s initial funding request, made back in February, saying it included “detailed” descriptions “laying out precisely what was needed.”

Republicans are under mounting pressure to approve Zika funding by the first week of June, before the virus has a chance to spread within the United States. Already, GOP lawmakers from Southern states have voiced concerns.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden MORE (R-Fla.) has publicly backed a Zika funding bill. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas), posted a photo online of a meeting with CDC Director Tom Frieden on Thursday. Afterwards, he tweeted: “We will do what it takes to combat this threat.”

The Obama administration says it needs nearly $2 billion for its response to the mosquito-borne virus, which has rapidly spread across Central and South America. The disease, linked to severe birth defects in newborns, is expected to spread to 30 states this summer.

Most of those funds would go to the Centers for Disease Control, which has dispatched top officials like Frieden in its funding push.

The big question is whether to approve new funding in 2016. Republicans are already working to boost Zika funding as part of the upcoming year’s appropriations process.

Rogers on Wednesday offered an amendment on a 2017 appropriations bill to allow leftover money from the State Department or the Department of Health and Human Services to be used to respond to the Zika virus. The amendment passed 30-20, and the appropriations bill is now making its way through the Senate.