WASHINGTON — The White House says President Obama would veto the $1.1 billion Zika funding package the House passed in the early morning hours Thursday, making it all but certain that the four-month odyssey to try to fund an emergency response to the virus is far from over.
The threat from deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz came as the Senate prepared for a vote next week, likely Tuesday, even though there’s no guarantee that the Senate can round up the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster as Democrats call the bill partisan and inadequate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a procedural step Thursday afternoon to set up the vote next week. But in order for the $1.1 billion funding plan, which cleared the House Thursday morning in a largely party-line vote, to pass, at least some Democrats would have to support it.
There was little sign at the Capitol on Thursday that any Democrats were willing to do that. They’re criticizing the GOP plan for using cuts to Obamacare and redirecting money from the Ebola emergency fund to pay for the $1.1 billion Zika response. Democrats are also opposed to a provision in the broader package that they say is an indirect effort to stop funding for Planned Parenthood.
“If it has all these things that they put in it, all these external poison pills, I don’t see how it would pass,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber.
McConnell chided Democrats for having “phony excuses” to oppose the bill.
“Democrats should work with us to pass Zika control funding again, not block funding for combatting this virus,” he said in a Senate floor speech. “Phony excuses and made-up objections to the funding we’ve already passed won’t help create a vaccine or eradicate the threat of Zika.”
But at some point, the plan would need 60 votes to make its way through the Senate, meaning a handful of Democrats must come onboard, and it isn’t clear where Republicans would find those votes.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat whose state is one of the most at risk of Zika, said he would oppose to the GOP’s funding plan as it currently exists.
“That’s not going to pass muster in the Senate,” he said. “What it is is delay, delay, while the crisis keeps building.”
The Obama administration originally requested $1.9 billion in February for a Zika response. Last month, the Senate passed a $1.1 billion plan that did not cut spending elsewhere, while the House passed a $622 million bill that was fully offset with spending cuts. The two chambers entered conference negotiations earlier this month, and Republican leaders announced a deal on Wednesday evening. But it was quickly attacked by Democrats.
In the meantime, the administration redirected $500 million from the Ebola funds in April to jumpstart a response to Zika, which has been linked to a devastating birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that three babies had been born in the United States with the condition, known as microcephaly.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the proposal “a responsible bill that provides the level of funding that was in the Senate, that received a big bipartisan vote, with a mix of offsets that we in the House felt were very important.”
But Senate Democrats were furious, saying that they had been cut out of the negotiations that produced the deal.
“They went in the middle of the night, didn’t include us, and put out a bill that’s insufficient,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat who had negotiated the Senate’s original funding plan with Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.
Asked if there were any continuing conversations with Senate Republicans, Murray responded: “What is there to talk about? They left us out of the conversation, passed something in the middle of the night without any of us looking at it.”