- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2016

An influential conservative group told Congress on Friday to pay for an emerging deal to combat the Zika virus by swiping dollars from other programs or using the annual budget process to prioritize the fight over other spending.

Heritage Action offered a wish list of programs for appropriators to tap, such $235 million for the Paris climate-change pact and nearly $50 million in employer subsidies for members of Congress who use the Obamacare exchange.

“As you consider the Obama administration’s funding request to respond to the Zika virus, we urge you to reaffirm the importance of prioritizing federal spending. Every day, all across the country, Americans are faced with difficult financials decisions that require sacrifice and prioritization. Lawmakers should hold themselves to the same standard,” the organization told House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

Mr. Cochran on Thursday said senators are close to striking a deal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the Zika virus, as health officials’ warnings about birth defects and political pressure from Democrats have forced the GOP to the negotiating table.

He didn’t say how much they planned to spend, though Democrats say the starting point is slightly more than $1 billion, or more than half of the $1.9 billion President Obama requested.

The White House has already shifted $510 million from the fight against Ebola in West Africa and $89 million from other accounts toward Zika, but Mr. Obama says much more is needed.

“About $600 million is already out the door,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday. “We still need answers to the questions about where it’s going. So we see our job as being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars as making sure that we have answers to our questions about how we fund these things.”

Conservatives want to slash $30 billion from a budget deal the parties agreed to last fall, so they are reluctant to post billions more to tackle Zika, the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Mich., and the prescription opioids and heroin epidemic.

“I think this is something that could be offset, and I would favor that,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said Friday of the emerging Zika deal.

Democrats, though, say the search for offsets would bog down the process, putting their states at risk.

Zika is spreading locally in Latin America and Puerto Rico but could swirl in the states once temperatures climb, allowing disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to multiply faster.

“We didn’t need [on offset] on Ebola. We had four cases of Ebola and we appropriated $4 billion in emergency funding,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said Thursday. “We’ve already had hundreds of cases of Zika. I’m not sure why it would be a different standard.”

“I think moving forward, we need to have reservoir funds to be able to use to get out of these crises,” he added. We have to get out of this habit of waiting until an epidemic is on us to be able to appropriate dollars.”


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