- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

Powerful House Republicans told the Obama administration Thursday to use leftover funds from the Ebola fight to address the spread of Zika virus, saying it is the best way to mount a swift response to the new epidemic and that Congress could replace the money later on, if needed.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said more than $2.7 billion of the roughly $5.3 billion set aside for various agencies to respond to the deadly Ebola outbreak, which ravaged West Africa from December 2013 to late 2015, had not been obligated.

In a letter to the White House, Mr. Rogers said those funds should be spent before the Congress grants President Obama’s request for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to battle Zika, a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked to serious birth defects in Latin America.

“These funds can and should be prioritized to meet the most pressing needs of mounting a rapid and full response to Zika,” Mr. Rogers, Kentucky Republican, and two of his chief appropriators said in a letter to Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Budget and Management.

“If additional funds are then needed to backfill the use of these funds in the future, we stand ready to consider such a request as part of the FY 2017 appropriations process,” the lawmakers said. “But if an urgent response is what is required, then it seems clear that substantial funds are already available without any further delay.”

The response sets up a clash between Republicans who control Congress and the administration, which insisted that using leftover funds for Ebola would hamper the lingering fight in West Africa and renege on promises the U.S. made to the global health community.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told Congress last week that workers in Sierra Leone recently uncovered a new case of Ebola, even though transmission had been declared over.

Mr. Rogers, however, said information from HHS, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department suggest there are “substantial amounts of funding that are un-obligated and not immediately required to address the Ebola outbreak, particularly since the emergency response is winding down.”

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

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