- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If President Obama needs more money to fight the Zika virus, he will have to find it by cutting elsewhere in the federal budget, House conservatives said Wednesday, laying down a marker as Congress increasingly clashes with the administration over spending requests.

Influential members of the House Republican conference said there is plenty of waste in faulty reconstruction projects in Afghanistan or in Social Security payments to dead people that could be cut, rather than tacking Zika money onto the deficit.

“I’m just going to be reluctant to vote for increased spending without it being offset,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and a member of the House Freedom Caucus that has frequently sparred with GOP leadership.

Mr. Obama is requesting $1.9 billion to find a better diagnostic test and a vaccine for Zika and to control the pesky mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Congressional Democrats have taken up Mr. Obama’s call, insisting that Congress is inviting trouble by not doing more to fight the virus ahead of a potential summer outbreak in the U.S.

But conservatives said Mr. Obama has already shifted money and should do more of that rather than asking taxpayers to pay more now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded nearly 400 travel-related cases of Zika in the states and the District of Columbia, including some instance of sexual transmission, but officials say the virus will spread on its own with the proliferation of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes this summer.

“You can’t build a fence to keep them out, and the mosquitoes won’t pay for it,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, alluding to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s plan to deal with illegal immigration along the southern U.S. border.

Democrats say the Zika threat is similar to wars and hurricanes, where Congress routinely tacks the costs onto the deficit rather than searching for offsets to pay for them.

“If this is not an emergency, there’s nothing that is — no flood, no earthquake, no fire,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We should have no offset.”

The standoff joins other fights over money to help Flint, Michigan, recover from its water crisis and to spend more on federal efforts against the emerging opioid drug abuse epidemic.

In each of those cases, Democrats say more federal money is needed, while Republicans are conflicted. Democrats say Congress needs to pass an emergency spending bill to cover a host of immediate needs.

The battle is playing out even as Congress tries to write its 2017 spending bills.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats mounted a filibuster to halt the first of the dozen annual bills. Democrats objected to having to vote on an amendment to the water and energy bill that would halt Mr. Obama’s plans to buy heavy water from Iran, in an effort to bolster the nuclear deal between the international community and the regime in Tehran.

“No matter what the issue, there is some new and creative way to try to throw a monkey wrench in the gears,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who insisted that passing the spending bills would be proof that Congress can operate under GOP control.

Democratic leaders, though, said Mr. Obama would veto the bill if it tries to stop any part of his Iran deal. Given that, Democrats said, it makes no sense to even debate or vote on the heavy-water proposal.

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