- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2016

The Obama administration is siphoning millions from AIDS programs, home-heating aid for poor Americans and drug-abuse treatment to keep the fight against the Zika virus moving amid a Capitol Hill standoff over more money to fight the global health scare.

Programs at the National Institutes of Health are being slashed across the board to free up the $34 million its infectious diseases arm says it needs to smoothly pivot from the first stage of its vaccine trial, which just began, to a second phase in early 2017.

The administration is taking more than $7 million from cancer research, $4.3 from NIH’s institute on heart, lung and blood research and more than $2 million each from diabetes and mental health divisions, among other cuts, according to the Health and Human Services Department, which outlined a total transfer of $81 million in a less-detailed letter to Congress on Thursday.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she is redirecting $47 million to a biomedical authority that is funding multiple vaccine trials in the private sector.

Notable cuts needed to pay for the transfer include:

— Nearly $20 million from home heating and cooling assistance to low-income people, known as “LIHEAP”

— $4.1 million from substance abuse prevention and treatment programs

— Nearly $1.7 million from primary health care services

— $2.8 million from Ryan White HIV/AIDS programs

— $1.2 from immunization and respiratory disease programs at the Centers for Disease Control

— $2.1 million from aging disability programs

Mrs. Burwell said she was forced to choose between funding these efforts and slowing down trials to approve the first vaccine for mosquito-borne Zika, which causes serious birth defects and is swirling in Latin America and Puerto Rico.

Florida recently reported the first 25 cases of Zika transmitted by mosquito on the U.S. mainland, ratcheting up pressure on Congress even as it enjoys a seven-week summer recess.

“Our nation’s ability to mount the type of Zika response that the American people deserve sits squarely with Congress,” Mrs. Burwell said in a letter to congressional leaders.

Senate Democrats late Thursday said the cuts from drug treatment were particularly troubling, citing a nationwide opioid epidemic, though Speaker Paul D. Ryan has said they only had themselves to blame for the funding shortfall.

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 Zika at home and abroad.

Instead, House and Senate Republicans reached the $1.1 billion compromise by paying for two-thirds of that money with cuts elsewhere, while the remaining about is tacked onto the deficit in the manner Democrats had wanted.

Democrats balked at the plan, saying 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.

With Congress out until September, top Republicans urged the Obama administration in July to look for funds elsewhere.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, accused the administration of finally bowing to pressure from Florida Democrats this week, rather than the GOP’s weeks-old demands.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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