Health Care

Senate leaders in talks to approve Zika funding

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Senate GOP leaders are in talks to advance a major funding package to fight the Zika virus, marking the end of a months-long battle between the GOP and the White House.

“We’re happy a Zika supplemental is finally in play,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday.

“We’re in ongoing talks with Republicans, and it looks promising,” Mikulski said.

{mosads}The Senate GOP’s efforts to approve funding for the Zika virus before the completion of this year’s appropriations process comes after a weeks-long dispute between administration officials and the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee.

President Obama has requested nearly $2 billion in emergency funding for a national response to the mosquito-borne virus, which can cause life-threatening birth defects in infants.

That request has been stalled in the House, where Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) says he is still waiting for details about how the money will be used.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the leader of the Appropriations Committee’s health panel, said Wednesday he has been dissatisfied by the administration’s response, even after a conversation with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell earlier in the day.

“We need some really basic answers,” Cole told reporters in the Capitol. He said the initial request was “too broad” but that he will work to make sure the administration has what it needs. 

That funding fight boiled over last week after 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.

A spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) declined to confirm a supplemental request was moving forward.

“We continue to work to scrub the request and assemble a responsible recommendation, but no final determination has been made,” Stephen Worley, a spokesman for the committee, said in a statement.

The Senate’s work on a supplemental bill was first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg News.

Republicans are under mounting pressure to approve Zika funding, particularly by officials from Southern states. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose state has already diagnosed dozens of cases, has publicly backed a Zika funding bill. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn (R-Texas), posted a photo online of a meeting with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden on Thursday. Afterward, he tweeted: “We will do what it takes to combat this threat.”

— Peter Sullivan contributed to this report.

Tags Barbara Mikulski John Cornyn Marco Rubio Thad Cochran

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