The Hill: House rejects Obama's request for $1.8 billion to fight Zika
February 18, 2016
The Hill - Sarah Ferris
The head of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday turned down the Obama administration’s request for emergency funding to fight the Zika virus, citing a pool of funding leftover from the Ebola virus.
Federal health officials had requested $1.8 billion to combat the Zika virus both in the U.S. and abroad. Most of that money would have gone to the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) for research into vaccines and diagnostics of the relatively unknown disease, which is largely spread by mosquitoes and has infected dozens of people in the U.S. since spreading from Latin America.
GOP leaders, led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), told the administration on Thursday that they should first use the money left over from the government’s emergency Ebola response before seeking new funding.
HHS still has $1.4 billion left of its Ebola funding — about half of the the total amount allocated — as of December 2015, according to the lawmakers’ letter. Another $1.3 billion is left over in the State Department’s allocation.
“These funds can and should be prioritized to meet the most pressing needs of mounting a rapid and full response to Zika,” Rogers, as well as two other GOP Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, wrote in a letter to President Obama’s budget director, Shaun Donovan.
The White House has already signaled it would not support this approach. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last month that the administration did not want to “take money that is currently being used to make sure we follow through on our Ebola response and have it be diverted to this latest effort.”
The GOP appropriators said in their letter they would be willing to consider replacing that Zika funding as part of this fall’s appropriations process, “but if an urgent response is what is required, then it seems clear that substantial funds are already available without any further delay.”
Rogers was joined by Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who leads the Health and Human Services Appropriations panel, and Kay Granger (R-Texas), who leads the foreign operations Appropriations panel.
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The GOP’s response to Obama’s funding request is likely to draw fire from Democrats, who have said that Ebola funding should be used to shore up public health systems that would prevent another Ebola-like health scare.
It also appears to be a shift from previous remarks by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said earlier this month that he expected bipartisan action on Zika funding, though he did not indicate how much funding he wanted or where it would come from.
“We do anticipate some kind of bipartisan action on this, because this is something we want to get ahead of,” Ryan said at a press conference.
Online: The Hill