GOP chairman blasts White House over Zika spending

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A top GOP chairman is blasting the White House for what he described as millions of dollars that could be used to fight the Zika virus, as Congress is locked in a tense partisan stalemate over funding for the virus.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that the Obama administration has spent just $90 million of the $590 million it redirected from its Ebola virus fund in April to launch efforts against Zika. 

{mosads}That would mean the administration has spent less than one-fifth of its available money, even as Democrats continue to hammer the GOP and block a $1.1 billion Zika funding plan.

“They’ve spent $90 million. They’ve got $500 million lying there of that money. I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Rogers said, raising his voice during a markup on next year’s health spending bill, during which Democrats forced a vote on fully funding Obama’s $1.9 billion Zika request.

“They’ve got the money and they won’t spend it. My question is why.”

Several other Republicans also sounded off on the White House’s leftover funding. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) accused the White House of spending money on climate change instead of Zika. 

Federal health officials have disputed Republicans’ claims that Democrats are choosing not to spend the money they have on hand.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to give states and territories nearly $100 million over the next month to fight Zika, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told The Hill last week.

“The suggestion that repurposed Ebola funds are sitting unused is misleading,” the HHS official said. The official argued that getting federal dollars out of the door “takes time,” and that the president made his $1.9 billion request knowing it would be a lengthy process.

“We have gone through the standard process for awarding that money, and much of it will move in July and August,” the official said.

Democrats, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), also defended the White House’s approach.

“The administration has documented every dime of the $1.9 billion dollars,” DeLauro said.

GOP leaders have put forward a $1.1 billion Zika funding bill, though Democrats have repeatedly blocked the bill because it uses other healthcare funding, including additional Ebola funds, and targets Planned Parenthood.

The chances of Congress approving a Zika funding bill before its seven-week summer recess are growing dimmer. Health experts say the virus, which is carried by mosquitoes and is known to cause birth defects, is likely to spread more quickly in summer months.


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