Health Care

Rubio: Drop Planned Parenthood fight to approve Zika funding

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The Senate GOP’s top advocate for funding a response to the Zika virus said Tuesday the best chance of getting money out the floor this month is by attaching it to the must-pass government spending bill.

{mosads}Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is endorsing a plan to save the much-disputed public health package by wrapping it into the stopgap spending bill that’s due in Congress by Sept. 30.

“The easiest way to get this paid for is to make it part of whatever we use to keep the government open for the rest of the year,” Rubio told The Hill, minutes after the Senate failed for the third time to advance a Zika funding package.

Republicans would have no choice but to eliminate the controversial provisions, such as language targeting Planned Parenthood, if the Zika package goes into the government spending bill. If not, Democrats would block the bill and accuse Republicans of trying to shut down the government over the women’s health provider — and just weeks before Election Day.

Rubio said Tuesday he would be willing to eliminate that language, which was added by House Republicans in June, to get the money out to his home state faster.

“My interest is getting the funding, so if that’s the fastest way to get the funding, I support it,” Rubio said, while adding that he believes Democrats are exaggerating the impact of the provision.

When asked if House Republicans are now willing to support that compromise bill, Rubio said he was “cautiously optimistic.”

The former GOP presidential candidate has been vocal about the need for a response to the mosquito-borne virus since January. And with his name on the ballot to keep his Senate seat this year, Rubio has been increasingly urgent about the need for funding in Florida.  

Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), another vulnerable GOP incumbent, also said Tuesday that Republicans should concede in their Planned Parenthood fight to speed up the response.

“The House should drop the poison pill language so we can pass a clean bill immediately,” Kirk wrote in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. Kirk, who is running in a swing district, has previously sided with Democrats to protect funding for Planned Parenthood.

Rubio said he believes the “fastest, easiest way” to send money to his home state is through the Senate’s $1.1 billion compromise bill, which was approved in May but later shot down in the House. That bill includes all new funding, which is not offset, and does not include what Democrats have described as “poison pills.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said he expects money to fight the Zika virus will ultimately be attached to a short-term government funding bill, despite the current stalemate.

“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) told reporters. “It would be grossly irresponsible not to deal with it. Of course it’s been pretty grossly irresponsible to filibuster it.” 

Jordain Carney contributed

Tags John Cornyn Marco Rubio Mark Kirk

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