Clash in GOP over Zika funding

Clash in GOP over Zika funding
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The House and Senate are on a collision course over funding to deal with the Zika virus.

Republicans in both chambers are moving forward with legislation after months of Democratic pressure, but their proposals differ sharply.

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In the Senate, Republicans worked with Democrats to craft a bill with $1.1 billion in new funding to fight the virus. That measure advanced in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 68-29.

But the House is on a different page, with Republicans on Monday unveiling Zika legislation with $622 million in funding, both below the Senate’s level and far less than the $1.9 billion sought by the White House. 

In addition, the cost of the House bill is offset partly by redirecting money that had been set aside for responding to the 2014 Ebola virus epidemic.

Democrats denounced the House bill on Tuesday, bolstered by a veto threat from the White House. But the Democrats largely held their fire on the Senate’s compromise measure, even as House conservatives warned it was unacceptable.

“There’s a big gulf between where the Senate is and where the House is on this,” said conservative Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.). 

“I think it becomes much more problematic for some of us to vote for a conference report that goes in the Senate direction rather than the House direction,” Sanford added, referring to a possible measure that would be worked out between the two chambers. 

Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoHaley: Giuliani should've been named 'special envoy' to Ukraine GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani's work in Ukraine CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the costs of any Zika bill must be offset.

“It needs to be paid for, and you know viruses do what viruses do,” he said. “I’m a veterinarian. We dealt with viruses all the time, whether it was rabies or some other virus. We don’t need legislators driving it, we need the scientific community driving it.”

Scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious disease research at the National Institutes of Health, say they need substantial new funding from Congress for vaccine research and other priorities.

The Zika virus has been shown to cause severe birth defects when contracted by pregnant women. Health experts believe infections in the U.S. could increase as mosquito populations grow during warmer months.

Some Republican senators are taking out their frustration on their House colleagues for resisting the bipartisan deal they struck with Democrats.

“I’m concerned about what I hear coming from the House,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (R-Fla.), whose home state is expected to be hit hard by Zika and has broken with his party to back the full White House request. “Their funding measure isn’t even $1.1 billion. It’s $622 million. Quite frankly, that’s just not going to cut it.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham expects Horowitz investigation to show evidence was manipulated, withheld Trump's exceptionalism: No president has so disrespected our exceptional institutions Trump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) added, “I hope we can get the House on board” with the compromise.

But the House is defending its approach. 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the top appropriator on healthcare, said it is important to offset the cost of the House bill.

“We’re the only people that are making it a priority enough to pay for it,” he said. 

“We’ve got, I think, the superior approach here, because it gets the resources where they need to go, and it’s paid for, and that’s the real debate here.”

Heritage Action, the influential conservative outside group, has pushed for any action on Zika to be paid for.

But finding offsets in the budget that would be acceptable to both parties is a difficult task.

Lawmakers said they expect an eventual conference committee to try to find a way to work out the differences between the two chambers’ measures. 

Democrats are also calling for Zika funding to be a stand-alone bill. The Senate is now attaching it to a broader spending bill that could take months to complete.

Supporters of Zika funding say it is progress that the House is discussing action at all. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.) said in March that the administration already had “plenty of money” to fight the virus. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) added in April that funding should be dealt with through the regular appropriations process, meaning it would not be available until Oct. 1.

Republicans have argued they need time to get answers from the administration and examine its request. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-Mo.), for example, said that White House had initially sought funding for buildings that should not have been part of an emergency request because they would not have been completed in time. 

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation MORE (D-Wash.), who negotiated the Senate deal with Blunt, pointed to “months of pressure from Democrats” as getting Republicans to move. 

Senate Democrats, including their leader, Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race MORE (Nev.), had objected to the $1.1 billion figure as too small, but they ultimately supported it, saying it was better than nothing. 

House Democrats, likewise, appeared open to accepting $1.1 billion.

“We still prefer the $1.9 billion, [but] the Senate bill, we think, as probably being preferable to the House bill, and we’ll see how that goes as we go forward,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House’s No. 2 Democrat, said Tuesday. 

Asked how the gap with the Senate would be bridged, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said: “That’s a bridge too far at this point, we’ll discuss the bill with them in due course of time.”

Sarah Ferris and Mike Lillis contributed.