GOP calls out Obama for millions of unspent dollars amid Zika fight

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Top Republicans in Congress are demanding to know why the White House is holding onto more than $400 million that they say could have already gone to fighting the Zika virus.

Six leading GOP appropriators wrote to President Obama on Thursday, voicing strong concerns about the administration’s slow pace in exhausting its existing resources on Zika, as Democrats dig in their heels to demand a $1.1 billion emergency spending bill.

{mosads}“This money is available immediately to prepare for and combat Zika, yet is seemingly not being spent,” the letter reads, echoing remarks by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) on Wednesday.

Lawmakers remain at a standstill over Zika funding as members of both chambers departed Thursday for a record seven-week recess. A last-ditch move to approve the funding by Senate Republicans on Thursday failed after Democrats blocked the GOP’s bill for a second time.

A once-promising Zika compromise bill, which had been backed by both parties in the Senate, collapsed late last month after House GOP leaders decided to advance their own version in protest of a Democratic sit-down over gun controls bills. The most recent version, which has earned no Democratic support, also faces a veto threat from the White House.

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told reporters last week that about $112 million of the roughly $589 million from the Ebola funding has gone out the door to fight Zika as of July 5.

That would mean the White House has drained only about one-sixth of its half-billion dollar funding pool for Zika amid vocal calls from Democrats to approve $1.9 billion in emergency spending.

Federal health officials have rejected the GOP’s claims that Democrats are choosing not to spend the money they have on hand. An HHS official argued that the process for spending federal dollars “takes time,” and that the president made his $1.9 billion request knowing it would be a lengthy process.

“The suggestion that repurposed Ebola funds are sitting unused is misleading,” the HHS official said. “We have gone through the standard process for awarding that money, and much of it will move in July and August.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to give states and territories nearly $100 million over the next month to fight Zika.

Last Friday, the CDC doled out another $25 million in state and local government grants.

HHS has also warned that its vaccine work — undertaken by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — “is in the middle of vaccine-related negotiations that will exhaust all of its repurposed Ebola funds.”

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