Bipartisan talks on Zika virus break down ahead of July 4 recess – Washington Post


House and Senate Republicans abandoned plans Wednesday to reach a bipartisan agreement on funding to fight the Zika virus, opting instead for a $1.1 billion GOP-only package that could have trouble passing the Senate.

Democrats abandoned negotiations on Wednesday in part because Republicans insisted that the funding be partially paid for by cuts to the Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — and by shifting more than $100 million from the Ebola emergency fund, according to Democratic aides.

With lawmakers headed for the exits on Thursday for a week of July 4th recess, the breakdown could mean that Congress will leave town once again without providing funding for Zika during the height of mosquito season. The virus is linked to severe birth defects in babies of some pregnant women who are infected.

Three women on the U.S. mainland have given birth to infants with birth defects related to the Zika virus. The CDC is currently monitoring 234 women on the U.S. mainland and another 189 with Zika in Puerto Rico

[Pregnancies in Zika-infected women resulted in birth defects]

Republican leaders hope to file the agreement before midnight Wednesday, according to a GOP aide. House rules would allow the lower chamber to vote as early as Friday on the legislation, but it is unlikely the proposal can pass the Senate. It is unclear what options remain if the GOP proposal fails.

The legislation will include $1.1 billion in funding to fight the spread of Zika through September 2017, according to House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

The spending would be paid for with about $750 million in savings, including $107 million in unused Ebola funds, $100 million in cuts to administrative funding for the Department Health and Human Services and $534 million from unspent Obamacare money for health care exchanges in U.S. territories.

Rogers confirmed the measure represents an agreement between House and Senate Republicans. He said he hopes Democrats will come around.

“I think surely they will support this,” Rogers said. “We’re going to post this bill tonight and hopefully take it up within the next day or two.”

Democrats were also upset that the GOP legislation would prevent any Zika funding from being sent to Planned Parenthood. Republicans also dropped a previously-approved provision that would have barred the Confederate battle flag from being displayed at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Democrats also objected to a measure that would allow pesticides to be used to control mosquitos without a permit for 180 days.

Without Democratic suppport, it will be difficult for Republicans to secure enough votes to overcome a procedural vote in the Senate. Republicans have 54 seats in the Senate and many of their members, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have pushed for greater funding to fight the mosquito-borne virus.

The bipartisan talks crumbled Wednesday after a week of negotiations, despite hints earlier this week that a deal was imminent. Negotiators were working to reach a compromise between a bipartisan Senate bill that would provide $1.1 billion to fight the virus through September 2017 and House legislation that would provide $622 million through the end of the year.

[Congress leaves town with no Zika agreement, long negotiations ahead]

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tweeted that the agreement touted by Republicans would be released without Democrats on board.

Both proposals fall short of the $1.9 billion requested by President Obama — but White House officials are less critical of the Senate figure.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who helped write the Senate legislation, on Tuesday pressed for her fellow negotiators to finish their work and adopt the Senate-passed language.

“This package has support on both sides of the aisle,” Murray said on the Senate floor. “With the health and well-being of women and babies on the line, now is not the time for nickle-and-diming,” Murray said. “There is no reason we can’t get a strong emergency funding proposal to the president’s desk this week.”

Democrats have insisted that the emergency funding does not need to be paid for elsewhere in the budget. They also object to any plans to redirect money from the Ebola fund.

The White House has already moved to divert $589 million from the Ebola early response fund to Zika, and most Democrats say that moving any additional money could make it harder to respond if Ebola re-emerges.

“We ought not be reducing Ebola funds and the effort to continue to contain Ebola in order to fight Zika,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md) told reporters on Tuesday.

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