Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika

Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika

Senate Republican leaders are hardening their stance against emergency funding for the Zika virus, just one week after prominent GOP lawmakers signaled a funding package was on its way.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates MORE (R-Texas) dismissed President Obama's $1.9 billion funding request as a "blank check" that would allow him to divert funds to agencies outside of the Zika virus efforts, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. 

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The No. 2 Senate Republican dismissed a motion from Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina Democratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Harry Reid calls for end to all caucuses MORE (D-Nev.) to force a vote on approving new funding to fight the Zika virus. Reid wanted to attach the amendment to a House highway bill.   

Cornyn flatly rejected Obama’s $1.9 billion funding request and signaled that he was opposed to any other new funding that did not go through the regular appropriations process. If Congress passes an emergency funding bill, it would not need to be offset under current law. But that approach has drawn sharp scrutiny from fiscal hawks. 

“It’s emergency spending, it's deficit spending. It completely lacks any kind of accountability," Cornyn said. 

Cornyn's remarks appear to be a shift within the Senate GOP from just last week, when Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid Biden has a lot at stake in first debate MORE (R-Miss.) said a short-term funding bill would reach the floor “in the near future.”

It's further proof that Congress’s only promising effort to boost funding to fight the Zika virus may be coming apart.

That package — reportedly $1.1 billion — was negotiated by health appropriations leaders Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium MORE (R-Mo.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Public health experts raise alarm as coronavirus spreads Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash MORE (D-Wash.). 

Democrats, including Murray, held a press conference Wednesday to accuse Republicans of dropping out of the talks.

“I was hopeful that we could make progress. But it has been nearly a week since we had those conversations,” Murray told reporters.

Contrasting that account, Blunt said on the Senate floor Thursday that he had been in conversations with House GOP leaders as recently as Wednesday. 

House GOP leaders have also raised concerns with emergency funding, though Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday he is not ruling out any options. 

Ryan will lead a policy meeting with the House GOP conference Friday morning, and Zika funding is expected to be on the agenda. Federal health officials have urged Congress to approve the funding by Memorial Day, just before the mosquito-borne virus is expected to begin spreading in the U.S.