Health Care

Senate Dems block Zika funding


A divided Senate on Tuesday again rejected a funding bill to fight the Zika virus, proving that Congress’s months-old stalemate went resolved over its lengthy summer recess.

In a 52-46 procedural vote, the Senate failed to win the 60 votes necessary to move forward and end debate on a conference report with the House on the issue.

Democrats nearly unanimously voted to block the $1.1 billion funding bill, which was approved by House Republicans in June but has now failed three times in the Senate because of divisive language targeting Planned Parenthood. 

{mosads}The Zika funding bill was attached to next year’s spending bill for military construction and veterans affairs, typically one of the least controversial spending bills in either chamber.

Speaking on the floor Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that Democrats had “filibustered” the funding for both Zika and veterans. 

Minutes later, his counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), blasted the GOP for adding in language targeting Planned Parenthood, along with other partisan measures that he described as “strange, weird stuff.”

“Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag. Can’t make that stuff up — that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus,” Reid said from the floor. 

Lawmakers from both parties hope Tuesday’s vote will be the final showdown before a deal is unveiled later this month as part of a bipartisan government spending package.

McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have both vowed to get money out the door to fight Zika by the end of September. Senate GOP leaders acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that the Zika funding will likely be wrapped into the stopgap spending bill, known as the continuing resolution.

“You know I assume that it would be wrapped in the year-end fiscal negotiations that would lead to some sort of continuing resolution. That’s my assumption,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate majority whip, told reporters just before Tuesday’s failed vote.

Some Republicans, including those in Florida facing the most intense pressure on Zika funding, have already hinted that the GOP will have to drop its Planned Parenthood language to get a bill passed in the upper chamber.

“For this to get done, that language just may have to go away,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a leading negotiator on Zika who faces reelection this fall, told McClatchy.

The Senate’s bill would have provided about $1.1 billion, including about $350 million in new money and the rest coming from existing health accounts, such as a fund for fighting the Ebola virus.

Earlier this summer, the Senate approved a different, bipartisan $1.1 billion funding package, though it was ultimately not taken up by the House because the funding was not offset. 

Both bills are shy of the White House’s total $1.9 billion request, which Republicans from Florida — such as vulnerable incumbents Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo — have backed.

Updated 8:08 p.m.

Tags Harry Reid John Cornyn Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Roy Blunt

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