- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Obama administration said Thursday it will begin siphoning money from critical medical research accounts to prop up the fight against Zika, as Republicans and Democrats continued to accuse each other of posturing in the face of a global health scare that’s reached the U.S. mainland.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she will move money to the National Institutes of Health to maintain government research into a Zika vaccine, and shift more money into a biomedical authority that funds parallel efforts in the private sector.

She said she had to act now or else both entities would run out of money by the end of August, after Congress failed to pass new funding last month, then left for a seven-week break.

“The failure to pass a Zika emergency supplemental has forced the Administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to avoid these delays,” Mrs. Burwell wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

She didn’t say where she was cutting.

Democrats on Capitol Hill said it should be embarrassing to Congress that HHS is shifting money, but Republicans said they were surprised it took the administration this long.

SEE ALSO: Florida reduces area of Zika transmission, but case tally keeps rising

They wrote a letter to President Obama in mid-July telling him to prepare for these shifts, after Senate Democrats filibustered to block an additional $1.1 billion in Zika-fighting money.

“It is clear yet again, with the announcement today, that federal agencies do indeed have existing funds available within their budgets that can be redirected to fight Zika,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, said. “This has been the case all along, and it is disappointing that it has taken this long for this action to occur.”

NIH’s director for infectious disease research, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Thursday that they didn’t want to swipe funds from other priorities until it became absolutely necessary.

“We were hoping, continually hoping, that the Congress was going to appropriate the money for us,” he said at a media briefing hosted by the Alliance for Health Reform.

“We’re taking money away from cancer, diabetes, all of those types of things,” he added. “It isn’t OK.”

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his top appropriators said Mr. Obama’s own party is to blame for his administration’s quandary. There is a compromise bill to add some $1.1 billion in Zika money ready to go on Capitol Hill, but Senate Democrats are filibustering it, saying it’s too little, complaining that none of it goes to Planned Parenthood, and saying it shouldn’t be offset with cuts elsewhere.

Mr. Obama earlier this year asked for some $1.9 billion to fight the mosquito-borne Zika, saying the country was facing the possibility of an epidemic. With the summer nearly over, the disease has turned out to be somewhat less severe — with local mosquito transmission only detected in one neighborhood in Miami, for a total of 25 cases so far.

Yet the chief effects of the disease — complications to pregnancies and severe birth defects for newborns — has elevated the issue.

House and Senate Republicans reached a compromise that would spend $1.1 billion on emergency needs. About two-thirds of that money would be paid for with cuts elsewhere, while the remaining about is tacked onto the deficit in the manner Democrats had wanted.

GOP lawmakers said that was a compromise Democrats should be able to live with, particularly since they are in the minority in both chambers of Congress.

Democrats, though, have turned the issue into a political spear, attacking Republicans on the campaign trail for refusing to accept Mr. Obama’s proposal.

They say the final compromise should be $1.1 billion — the number the GOP has agreed to — but the funding should be added to the deficit, and they want some of it to be able to go to Planned Parenthood to provide contraceptives to prevent pregnancy in women at risk of Zika.

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