WASHINGTON — Yes, Congress really is leaving town without approving Zika funding. Again.
And this time, they won’t be back for the rest of the summer.
Caught up in a partisan squabble about Planned Parenthood, the Senate once again failed Thursday to advance a $1.1 billion package to fund the US response to the Zika virus.
The measure fell short in a procedural vote, 52 to 44. It needed 60 votes to advance.
With the Zika funding question still unresolved, Congress is leaving town for the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions and won’t return until September. Leaders from both parties laid the blame at the other’s feet for the impasse.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky chastised the Democrats to “think about Zika” during the long summer break.
“They’ll have to decide: Do they want to continue these partisan games on critical issues like Zika?” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada gave it right back a few minutes later.
“Republicans are choosing vacation over protecting pregnant women and their babies,” he said in his own floor speech.
The standoff centers on Planned Parenthood. After House and Senate Republicans negotiated a final Zika funding plan, they included a provision that Democrats say would cut funding for the women’s health program.
The measure cleared the House on a party-line vote, but in the Senate, where some level of bipartisan support is necessary, Democrats have refused to budge. They want to revert to the original $1.1 billion Zika funding package that the Senate passed in May with 68 votes, which didn’t have any of the riders or cuts to other programs that are in the final bill.
Senate Republicans, however, have said that the bill cannot be amended because it’s the final version and has already passed the House.
In the meantime, the Obama administration has warned that the country’s response would be hampered without new funding for Zika. Some of the activities that could be stopped or postponed include research into the virus’s link to birth defects, mosquito-tracking across the United States, and support for state and local rapid response.
The administration redirected $500 million in leftover Ebola emergency funding in April, but health officials have said repeatedly that more funding is needed. The White House originally requested emergency Zika funding in February, 142 days ago.
More than 1,300 Zika cases have been reported in the United States. Nearly 350 pregnant women have contracted the virus, which has been linked to babies being born with abnormally small heads and severe neurological problems, and at least nine babies have been born in the United States with Zika-related birth defects.