- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

House Democrats on Wednesday accused Republican leaders of intentionally dragging out the debate over President Obama’s $1.9 billion request to fight the Zika virus, saying the White House has already detailed everything there is to know about its plea for emergency funding.

“We have more information about this than we had about going to war in Iraq, where we couldn’t find a weapon of mass destruction,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat.

The Obama administration says new money is needed to develop a better diagnostic test and a vaccine for Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that has been directly linked to serious birth defects.

It also wants to bolster mosquito-control efforts before the disease begins to spread on the U.S. mainland, while assisting Latin American countries that are already dealing with the outbreak.

The White House recently shifted $510 million from the largely successful fight against Ebola in West Africa to the Zika threat. Democrats say that was just a stop-gap measure, so new money is still needed.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers and other leading Republicans have said they are ready to disburse Zika funds, as needed, but they need more information about how the money would be used.

“It’s an important issue. We’re in discussion with them about how much do they really need,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday. “They have taken our suggestion and transferred some of the Ebola money through a reprogramming into that account. And we’re working with them on it to figure out exactly the right amount of money.”

Mrs. DeLauro said she has attended detailed briefings with the administration and Republican lawmakers, so their request for more information adds up to a “misrepresentation.”

“They have no number, they are not holding any meetings,” Mrs. DeLauro said. “We have nothing that says they are willing to address this.”

For weeks, Democrats have heaped political pressure on Republicans to pony up funds for Zika and other crises, including the lead-tainted water emergency in Flint, Michigan, and the prescription opioids and heroin epidemic.

Yet Republican leaders are still trying to rally their caucuses around a fiscal 2017 budget, to say nothing of emergency funding on top what’s need to keep the federal government moving.

“My understanding from the Republican leadership is they don’t want to do a supplemental. They don’t want to do it because if we have Zika and we have Flint and if we have opioids — which we really need to do — then other people may want to add some other things,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “But that’s not about leadership, that’s just about an excuse.”

The U.S. territories have reported 471 locally acquired Zika cases, most of them in Puerto Rico.

While it isn’t circulating on the U.S. mainland, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 358 cases that were brought back by travelers to the hot zone and a handful of sexually transmitted cases.

Health officials said they expect the disease to puncture the mainland further when temperatures rise, making the climate more hospitable to the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus.

Democrats have said it isn’t clear how big of a footprint those mosquitoes have in the states, so the virus may spread farther than anticipated.

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