WASHINGTON — Top senators from both parties said Thursday that they are getting close to a deal to provide at least some emergency funding to fight the Zika virus, making it likely that the Senate will move ahead on the issue without waiting for the House.
There’s no deal yet. But at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the subcommittee that funds health care programs, said he and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington were “largely in agreement on a place where we think we could be” on an emergency funding bill.
Blunt said he and Murray were “closing in on a number that’s the right number,” adding that “there’s never been a debate about whether to do this, but we need to do it in the right way.”
The chairman of the panel, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, said the goal will be to offer the emergency funding measure as an amendment to another bill on the Senate floor “in the near future.”
Murray, for her part, said she was “glad that there is a process to move forward” on emergency Zika funding, adding that “we cannot wait until the fall. … We really need to move on this.”
The latest developments confirm that the Senate is taking a different path from the House, where the top Republican appropriators are still resisting the Obama administration’s call for $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funds, saying the administration hasn’t answered a series of detailed questions about how the money would be used.
Although the administration sent an updated request to Capitol Hill on Monday with new details — including a shift of more money toward research into a Zika vaccine — GOP aides said they still have not gotten answers to questions they have been asking since March. For example, they say the administration hasn’t said how much of the money would actually go to Zika and how much would go to unspecified “other infectious diseases” cited in the request.
On Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers said in a statement that the Obama administration “continues to delay response efforts by refusing to provide basic budgetary information to Congress. … In the absence of this information, the House Appropriations Committee will work with our colleagues in the House and the Senate to make our own determinations on what is needed and when, and to provide the funding that we believe is necessary and responsible.”
Senate Republicans, however, aren’t letting their questions stall the process. Cochran acknowledged that “it has been difficult to obtain the details” from the administration about how it wants to spend the money, but added that “we recognize that there is an urgency” to making sure that public health authorities are prepared to keep the Zika virus from spreading in the United States.
Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the Senate “must act before July 1” because of the public health dangers if the Zika virus spreads during the height of mosquito season in the United States.
“We are in a race against the clock, we are in a race against the mosquitoes, and I would say right now that the mosquitoes are winning,” Mikulski said.
Follow the Zika virus through time and space
It might seem like the Zika virus exploded out of nowhere in Brazil a few months ago, but the virus has been all over the world since it was discovered in Uganda in 1947. Use the button to manually navigate the globe through the years, or drag your cursor to rotate it, and click on countries to discover the distribution of the Zika virus infection and associated neurological disorders across time and geographies, starting in 1947.