- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2016

Senate Democrats are seeking a “blank check” to combat the Zika virus, a top Republican charged Thursday, as lawmakers prepared to skip town for a week without settling their quarrel over President Obama’s request for nearly $2 billion to resist the mosquito-borne disease.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Mr. Obama made a suitable “down payment” by taking $510 million from the successful Ebola fight to prepare for Zika, which causes serious birth defects.

Now, Democrats are pushing for speedy passage of an emergency spending bill that isn’t paid for through cuts elsewhere.

“The fact is our friends across the aisle have requested a $1.9 billion blank check,” Mr. Cornyn said. “They haven’t told us what the plan for the use of the funds is.”

Specifically, the senator faulted a contingency fund that allows the Health and Human Services Department to shift funds around for various purposes.

“So what they want to do is play a shell game with this money,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Republicans say the request for more Zika money should be vetted through the annual appropriations process, because the administration hasn’t been specific about its plans so far.

The White House and congressional Democrats say the GOP is stalling in the face of political pressure from their right flank, as conservatives cry foul over federal spending levels.

“Everybody knows what’s in this legislation,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told Mr. Cornyn. “What my friend, the assistant Republican leader, said is nonsense.”

Zika is already spreading in Puerto Rico, where nearly 500 people have been infected. Travelers have brought 388 cases back to the states and D.C., and the virus could puncture the mainland further when mosquito season hits this summer.

Bipartisan negotiators from the Senate Appropriations Committee are working on a $1.1 billion package to partially fund Mr. Obama’s Zika request, but the talks haven’t yielded results so far, and it is unclear if the House would approve such a package.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said senators should not depart for a weeklong recess late Thursday unless they find a way forward.

“While we’re home glad-handing people during the next week, we should be doing something here to address this emergency,” he said.

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