House Democrats threw down their marker Monday in the fight over how much money is needed to fight the Zika virus, writing legislation that would fund all of President Obama’s $1.9 billion request and tacking it all onto the deficit.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said Zika is too immediate a threat to quibble about where to find the money.
They also said GOP leaders gave them no choice but to go it alone with their bill after Republicans rejected efforts to attach the money to one of the annual spending bills slated for passage later this year.
“While Republicans inexplicably block action to protect America’s expectant mothers from Zika, Democrats are continuing to demand the robust emergency resources American families need,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
House GOP leaders have moved more cautiously, saying they haven’t received enough information from the White House about how much is needed to fight Zika, which causes birth defects and is spreading locally on Puerto Rico.
Conservatives are also girding for a fight over the cost, saying any money for Zika should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget rather than piled on the deficit for future taxpayers to handle.
The House divide contrasts with bipartisan efforts in the Senate to hammer out a deal that would partially fund Mr. Obama’s request. Democrats say the starting point for the talks is just over $1 billion, though GOP lawmakers haven’t announced a figure.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, said senators will get a chance to vote on the package “in the near future” as an amendment to one of the chamber’s fiscal 2017 spending bills.
The fight over Zika joins several other ongoing funding fights. Republicans this year have resisted pressure from Democrats to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on emergencies such as the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the prescription opioids and heroin epidemic.
For now the White House has shifted $510 million from the Ebola fight and $89 million from other accounts to combat Zika in the near team, as they ask the White House what it needs to fight the virus through the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
“In the absence of this information, the House Appropriations Committee will work with our colleagues in the House and the Senate to make our own determinations on what is needed and when, and to provide the funding that we believe is necessary and responsible,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, said last week.
Though Zika isn’t circulating in the states, the Centers for Disease Control has recorded 388 travel-related cases and says the virus could puncture the mainland further when temperatures climb, allowing mosquitoes that carry the disease to proliferate.
The disease is already spreading locally in U.S. territories, which have reported 500 cases, mostly in Puerto Rico. Nearly 50 of the cases involved pregnant women.
The Department of Health and Human Services said Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will take a two-day trip to Puerto Rico this week to get a firsthand look at how the island is combatting the virus.
She will meet with Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, tour a blood bank and personally urge pregnant women and those of childbearing age to protect themselves against mosquito bites that could lead to infection.
Mr. Obama’s Zika request includes $250 million to bolster Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program since its funding is capped and the island theoretically cannot respond as easily to emergencies.