Dems threaten to oppose GOP funding deal on Zika

Dems threaten to oppose GOP funding deal on Zika
© Moriah Ratner

GOP leaders have reached a $1.1 billion funding deal to combat the Zika virus, but Democratic leaders are vowing to oppose it over cuts to crucial healthcare programs.

Republicans had planned to file their bill late Wednesday, with a vote Thursday or Friday before the House leaves town for its week-and-a-half recess, according to a summary obtained by The Hill.

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But House GOP leaders announced around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday – after a historic, day-long floor takeover by Democrats demanding a gun control vote – that they would move forward with the Zika bill.

The House Rules Committee will take up the Zika bill, as well as the military construction and veterans bill to which it is attached, around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced the deal late Wednesday evening, describing it as a “responsible compromise that can and should be signed into law.”

But even before the deal was officially unveiled, it was soundly rejected by Democratic leaders.

“It is clear that once again, Republicans have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest wrote in a statement late Wednesday, about an hour before details were formally released.

The sharp divisions over the Zika funding bill have been months in the making. Rogers and his House GOP colleagues have been firmly opposed to supplying the full $1.9 billion requested by President Obama to fight the virus, calling it the equivalent of a “blank check.”

The deal provides about $400 million in new funding while moving around around $750 million to the nation’s fight against the virus.

Rogers said his bill – “unlike the administration’s request” – would give more specific charges to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight Zika.

“This legislation places tight controls and oversight on spending to ensure that every dollar is being used appropriately,” Rogers wrote in a statement.

That deal matches the Senate’s initial offer, which would have put up $1.1 billion in emergency spending. The bill released Wednesday, however, would use $543 million from an existing ObamaCare program as well as $107 million from an Ebola virus fund and $100 million in other "unused administrative funding" within the health department.

Those controversial offsets were already used in the House Republicans’ bill, which President Obama has threatened to veto.

Democratic leaders – including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – said they would refuse to sign the bicameral conference committee report, which also covers appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction.

“A narrowly partisan proposal that cuts off women's access to birth control, shortchanges veterans and rescinds Obamacare funds to cover the cost is not a serious response to the threat from the Zika virus," Reid said in a statement.

"In short, Republicans are trying to turn an attempt to protect women's health into an attack on women's health. We waited four months for Republicans to do anything to combat Zika. Their proposal would be comical except this a public health emergency and it deserves urgency."

Reid also ripped the proposal for underfunding veterans and for reneging on a different deal to prevent the Confederate flag from being flown in national cemeteries.  

Democrats have said they’ve been frozen out of the talks and intensified their attacks on the GOP late Wednesday.

“There is no bipartisan 'deal' on Zika. The only 'deal' is House & Senate Republicans agreeing to launch more attacks on women's health,” Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, tweeted Wednesday.

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, is also voicing strong concerns with the bill.

“This is an agreement reached between House Republicans and Senate Republicans,” her spokesman, Matt Dennis, said Wednesday. “Democrats are not party to an agreement.”