White House tweaks Zika money request with eye toward vaccines

The White House is tweaking its request to Congress for Zika funding amid a battle with Republicans.

The updated request sent late Monday keeps the same top-line number of $1.9 billion but shifts more money into vaccine research, according to a summary, in a response to new developments. 

Congressional Democrats hope the new request will address the GOP’s call for more information and spur them to act.

{mosads}However, a House GOP aide said Tuesday that the new information is not enough and simply shifts around the funds in the initial request without providing new details.

“This in no way provided any response to Chairman Cole’s letter, nor did it address any of our outstanding questions,” the GOP aide said, referring to a letter to the administration from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) asking for more details.

Still, congressional Republicans now appear more open to approving at least some new funding.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in March that the administration already has “plenty of money” to fight Zika. His office said any new funds could come through the regular appropriations process.

But last week, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he is open to new supplemental funding to fight Zika but needed a more detailed breakdown of where the money would go before acting. 

The White House says it already has provided those details, but Republicans countered that its response was just a rehash of publicly available information.

The new request says that multiple vaccine candidates are now being launched, instead of one, and that funding is needed to get vaccines through Phase II and Phase I clinical trials, according to a congressional aide.

The request includes $235 million more than the original request for the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The extra funds come from reducing the requests for a contingency fund and facility improvements for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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