As Florida leads nation with Zika, a funding fight breaks out in Washington
WASHINGTON - A Zika war has broken out on Capitol Hill.
Democrats and Republicans are escalating a fight over a $1.9 billion request from President Obama to combat a growing threat most pronounced in Florida.
“This is about to be a very serious public health crisis,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Tuesday on the chamber floor, predicting warmer weather will bring attention as mosquitoes emerge in force.
But Republicans are divided, with many questioning the size and urgency of the funding request. Obama has already secured $589 million.
“We haven’t concluded how much or when,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “We all are very much aware that this is a serious crisis.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, has been working on a deal with Democrats that last sat at $1.1 billion.
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid rejected anything less the full amount and demanded Tuesday the issue be dealt with by the end of the week. Democrats will try to amplify that message Wednesday afternoon at a news conference led by Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Reluctance from House Republicans can be viewed through the Florida delegation, which has not been particularly vocal about the need for more funding even as the state leads the nation in Zika cases.
"If more funds are needed, the administration should come to Congress and demonstrate how the funds will be used," Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Verdra Beach said in a recent statement.
Heritage Action, the influential conservative group, is pressing Republicans not to grant the request without budget offsets.
Not all Republicans oppose the funding. Sen. Marco Rubio favors $1.9 billion, though said Tuesday he is “generally supportive of that request” and also wants offsets.
“What we don’t want to do is wake up one morning to the realization that you’re now in the middle of summer, this has become an epidemic or catastrophe and we didn’t do anything on the front end and everyone here’s going to have to explain, 'You know, what was your position at the time?'
“But I also think you can be for Zika funding, you can even be for Zika funding at $1.9 billion and you can also ask questions about, ‘how is this money going to be spent?’ And if possible, ‘how are we going to pay for it?’ Because we are facing a debt situation in this country, and I believe we can find $1.9 billion to pay for it.”
Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, organized an event with bay area health officials Tuesday to call attention to the virus. She charged that “Republican inaction leaves us more susceptible to this serious public health emergency.”