- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2016

The nation’s governors urged Congress Monday to strike a deal on federal funding to combat the Zika virus, saying Washington must pony up the money before the country hits a “tipping point” and mosquitoes begin transmitting the virus in their states.

“The nation is on the threshold of a public health emergency as it faces the likely spread of the Zika virus. As with all such emergencies, advance planning and preparation is essential to prevent injury and death,” the National Governors Association, a bipartisan group that weighs in on national policy, said in a statement.

Governors didn’t say how much money is needed, but the White House said it took the statement as backing for President Obama’s demand that Congress find $1.9 billion in new money.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Americans want the money spent so badly they’re willing to tack it onto the record debt rather than cut other programs to pay for it.

“This, obviously, is consistent with the argument that the administration has been making for more than two months now: that given the public health emergency that exists around the Zika virus, it’s critical that Congress act quickly to provide the necessary funding to our public health professionals and to states to ensure we can protect the American people,” Mr. Earnest said after the NGA statement.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, plans to lobby on Capitol Hill this week for resources to deal with Zika since his state’s climate makes it vulnerable to the virus’ main vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has begun distributing larvicide tablets and deploying mosquito traps to gird for Zika, while Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland held a “Zika Virus Awareness Week” last month.

Darrell West, director of governance studies at The Brookings Institution, said the push reflects a belief that responding to Zika will cost more down the road if lawmakers don’t forge a plan now.

“Governors around the country understand this and want Congress to act. This is not a time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” he said.

Republican leaders, however, say they are leery of cutting the administration a “blank check” to fight Zika.

They say Mr. Obama has already shifted more than $500 million from anti-Ebola efforts in West Africa to the Zika fight, buying time for all sides to work out a bigger agreement as part of the annual spending process this fall.

Senate Republicans have spoken with Democrats about trying to find $1.1 billion now, but those talks appeared to stall before senators skipped town for a week.

The Centers for Disease Control has recorded 426 Zika cases in the states and the District, most of them contracted by travelers overseas, with a handful contracted by sexual contact with an infected person.

But experts fear the virus will begin to spread by mosquito once temperatures rise and the bug population flourishes.

The virus is already circulating on its own in Puerto Rico, where it’s infected more than 600 people and led to one man’s death.

Governors urged Congress to move swiftly on some kind of deal, saying they will need more resources to combat the virus once mosquito season kicks into high gear.

“As Congress returns from recess today, the nation’s governors urge the administration and Congress to work together to reach agreement on the appropriate funding levels needed to prepare for and combat the Zika virus,” the association said. “We also ask they act as expeditiously as possible to ensure those funds are available to states, territories and the public at large.”

Democrats want to treat Zika funding as emergency spending that is tacked onto the deficit — akin to relief funding after hurricanes or other disasters.

House conservatives and outside groups like Heritage Action have pushed back though, saying any new spending to fight Zika must be offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

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