WASHINGTON — The House passed a $1.1 billion Zika funding bill in the early morning hours Thursday, as Republicans pushed through a final bill worked out by House and Senate negotiators that’s being bitterly criticized by the White House and congressional Democrats.
The vote, which came at around 3 a.m., took place as Republicans tried to work around a Democratic sit-in on the House floor that’s being staged to demand votes on gun control. The Zika measure passed 239-171, almost entirely among party lines.
It remains to be seen whether President Obama would sign the final bill, released late Wednesday, which still needs to be approved by the Senate. Top Democrats quickly characterized it as a partisan proposal and vowed to oppose it. They said it was full of unreasonable spending cuts and policy changes, especially on women’s health.
“If Zika is going to get funded, there has to be a third act,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky said the agreement was “the product of careful and thorough deliberations between the House and the Senate, and reflects a responsible compromise that can and should be signed into law.”
But Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that funds health programs, called it “a hyperpartisan proposal that is more about throwing red meat to the tea party than actually tackling this crisis.”
Obama isn’t threatening to veto the bill — yet. But in a statement late Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest declared that “once again, Republicans have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies.”
The final bill would fall short of the $1.9 billion Obama requested in February to help fight the virus, which threatens to become a public health emergency within the United States if mosquitoes spread the disease that has been linked to serious birth defects.
Of the $1.1 billion, the National Institutes of Health would receive $230 million to help with vaccine work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $476 million for work on mosquito control and other readiness and response activities, while the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would get $85 million for research and development priorities, including rapid diagnostic tests.
The State Department and the United States Agency for International Development would receive $175 million to help prevent the spread of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the United States.
The problem, top Democrats said, is the cuts to other programs that Republicans have included to win support from their most conservative members.
The $1.1 billion in new funding would be partially offset by $750 million in spending cuts. They would include $543 million from the Affordable Care Act’s transition fund for US territories, $100 million from administrative funds for the US Department of Health and Human Services, and $107 million from the remaining Ebola emergency funding.
Democrats also were furious about a section of the bill that would restrict who could provide birth control services — a provision they view as an indirect way of defunding Planned Parenthood.
“House and Senate Republicans intend to file a cynical, partisan conference report that includes poison pill riders, [and] offsets and underfunds our veterans by $500 million. I will oppose it,” Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.
Earnest charged that “the fact that the Republican plan limits needed birth control services for women in the United States and Puerto Rico as we seek to stop the spread of a sexually transmitted disease is a clear indication they don’t take seriously the threat from the Zika virus or their responsibility to protect Americans.”
The Senate’s original $1.1 billion Zika package was all new money, but the House’s smaller $622 million bill was fully funded by cuts in other programs.
The conference committee that convened in recent weeks included Republicans and Democrats, but Democratic aides were quickly critical of the agreement.
Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, tweeted that Democrats were “not party to the agreement,” and that the agreement was between House and Senate Republicans.
Though the Obama administration originally requested $1.9 billion for a Zika response, lawmakers have struggled to produce a funding proposal that could pass through Congress. The administration redirected more than $500 million from the Ebola funds in April while waiting for congressional action.
The virus, which started becoming a global concern late last year, has been linked to a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. The CDC said last week that three infants had been born in the United States with the condition.