House approves $622M Zika funding bill

House Republicans on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $622 million bill to combat the Zika virus, creating a pot of funds about one-third the size requested by the White House.

All but four Republicans who cast votes were in favor of the bill, which funds federal research, prevention and treatment efforts for the next six months.

{mosads}President Obama has warned he would veto the bill, which a White House spokesman recently blasted as “a dumb approach.”

The House’s bill is about half of the Senate’s funding package of $1.1 billion, which is intended to last through September 2017. The Senate advanced that bill on Tuesday.

House Democrats unanimously opposed the bill on Wednesday. Democrats have blasted the House GOP package as a negligent response to a virus that is known to cause birth defects and is expected to spread into the continental U.S. next month.  

They also argue the funding package takes away crucial resources from the nation’s ongoing fight against the Ebola virus.

“When a tornado strikes, we don’t steal money from the unfinished relief efforts for the last hurricane,” Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. “Yet House Republicans would take more Ebola funding, risking that it could re-emerge.”

The new spending is fully offset, to meet the demands of House fiscal hawks, and about half comes from unspent Ebola money.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) repeatedly took to the floor on Wednesday to reject claims from Democrats — as well as some Republicans in vulnerable Southern states — that the bill will sufficiently fund the U.S. response to the virus threat.

“This is wholly adequate. It’s more than adequate in terms of money,” Rogers said minutes before the vote.

Rogers also argued that the White House’s funding for the Ebola virus was specifically meant to be used against infectious diseases like the Zika virus. 

House GOP leaders have been looking to close the gap between the Senate’s funding bill and their own, arguing the main difference is in the timeline.

The House package lasts only through this September.

“We actually don’t disagree very much about the amount of money,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who manages health spending on the House Appropriations Committee.

Cole said Wednesday ahead of the vote that the House GOP plans to add “hundreds of millions” of dollars to the Zika fight during the annual spending process this fall. The final amount over two years, he said, would be just as much, if not more, as the Senate’s funding package.

“It will be very, very substantial,” Cole told The Hill. “Actually, by the end of this, if you add it all up, we’ll either be at or above the Senate’s total. … It’ll be very comparable.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the bill would help prevent the spread of Zika “in the most direct way possible,” by focusing on key areas like vaccines and mosquito control. 

“We will now work with the Senate to get the needed resources to the president’s desk,” Ryan wrote in a statement Wednesday evening.

The Obama administration has repeatedly accused the House GOP of depriving health agencies of funding to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus. President Obama requested $1.9 billion in funding in February and was later forced to pull about $500 million from a separate Ebola account to amplify its response.

The White House on Wednesday delivered its strongest rebuke to date against the House GOP’s $622 million bill.

“The only thing that Republicans in the House have come forward with is funding at like a third of the level that our public health experts recommend,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a briefing Wednesday.

“That doesn’t make sense at all. That is a dumb approach. And I don’t really understand why— why one would even consider an approach like that.”

House Republicans have disputed the administration’s claims that they are already short on funding for the near future.

“It’s going to take two to three years to complete the necessary research,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who has a medical degree, said on the floor Wednesday evening. “This bill deals with the needs over the next six months.”

Cristina Marcos contributed

Tags Ebola Paul Ryan Zika virus
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