WASHINGTON — Congress is finally moving to render the nation’s cancer control experts with funding to prevent the spread of Zika in the United States, but the House of Representatives is offering only about a third of the money sought by the Obama administration.
After the Senate put three competing bills on its calendar for this week — with minimum fund of $1.1 billion — the House Appropriations Committee announced plans for a $622 million measure.
In February, President Barack Obama asked lawmakers for $1.9 billion to ramp up a host of efforts, from mosquito mitigation to education and inoculation research.
The Zika virus has been conclusively proven to cause microcephaly and other birth defect where reference is infects pregnant women. It’s also strongly suspected of causing other problems, such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
The administration had hoped to use the money it requested to help fund a massive response, especially ahead of the warmer months when the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus breed and spread.
But Republican leaders in Congress expressed doubts about the funding petitions, and said here White House has failed to present an adequate plan or answer questions about how the money will be spent.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers( R-Ky .) cited the disagreement as his reason for coming up with a smaller Zika budget, saying the House nevertheless wants to ensure that some funds are available.
“Given the severity of the Zika crisis and the global health threat, we cannot afford to wait on the administration any longer, ” he said in a statement. “We have built our own funding determinations, employing what information is available and through discussions with federal agencies, to craft a proposal to fight the spread of this damaging disease.”
“This legislation will make dollars available to fight the disease now, prioritizing critical activities that must begin immediately, such as inoculation growth and mosquito control, ” Rogers added. “The legislation funds these efforts in a responsible style, using existing resources — including excess fund left over from the Ebola outbreak — to pay for it.”
The administration had already transferred virtually $600 million from the Ebola effort and other programs to fund its response. Rogers said the committee will consider additional funding not as an emergency, but in the regular appropriations process for 2017, which is underway now.
“Every child deserves the chance at a full and healthy life, and every mom deserves to see her child thrive, ” Rogers said. “This measure will help make sure this happens, while doing it in an effective, efficient, and accountable way.”
Rogers’ comments suggest Republicans realise combatting the disease will likely cost more, but also that they are not impressed with the administration’s debates against piecemeal fund, which it has said builds the response more difficult to administer.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the GOP proposal is woefully inadequate.
“That is basically the bureaucratic equivalent of excavating through sofa cushions to try to come up with the necessary money, ” he said in his daily briefing. “Our public health professionals shouldn’t restricted to doing that.”
Earnest said he expects “widespread public reporting” about the threat of the Zika virus in the United States this summer, and that people wondering why the government didn’t effectively plan to protect people from the virus should pose their questions to Congress.
“My answer will be, we’ve been trying, ” he said.
Rep. Nita Lowey( D-N.Y .), the highest-ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee, was also underwhelmed.
“The majority’s decision to underfund the President’s request by $1.3 billion hazards worsening an already severe crisis, ” she said in a statement. “Without full fund, private sector work on vaccines and diagnostic testing will be delayed due to the lack of multi-year funding commitments. State and local public health emergency preparedness grants will be underfunded, hampering efforts to control mosquito populations. Failing to replenish Ebola accounts will force us to renege on commitments to fortify public health systems and hurt our ability to respond to new outbreaks.”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said later that the $622 million House bill should be counted on top of the money the Obama administration has already changed from Ebola, effectively constructing the total $1.2 billion.
This story has been updated to include comment from Ryan’s spokeswoman . Jen Bendery contributed reporting .
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