- 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 fastest way to respond to the latest global health scare and that Congress can replace the money later on, if needed.

House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said the administration hasn’t spent about $2.7 billion of the $5.3 billion set aside to deal with the Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa from December 2013 to late 2015.

The chairman told President Obama to draw from that well instead of expecting Congress to rubber-stamp his request for $1.8 billion in new money to combat Zika — a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked to serious birth defects in Latin America.

“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. But if an urgent response is what is required, then it seems clear that substantial funds are already available without any further delay,” Mr. Rogers, Kentucky Republican, and two of his chief appropriators wrote to Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The appropriators said figures from the HHS, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department suggest there is ample cash left over to fight Zika without slowing down West Africa’s recovery.

Their letter sets up a clash between congressional GOP leaders and the administration, which had insisted on keeping the Ebola funds in place to finish the job in West Africa.

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, underscoring the need for continued efforts.

Late Thursday, OMB issued a statement that said Mr. Obama will ask Congress for authority to use “a portion” of remaining Ebola funds “that have not yet been obligated or planned for critical activities” to fight Zika or other infectious diseases, although it did not put a dollar amount on that portion and reiterated its commitment to the Ebola fight.

“In order to maintain a readiness posture in the event of new cases of Ebola, the administration has chosen to submit to Congress in the coming days an emergency supplemental appropriations request to respond to the Zika virus both domestically and internationally,” the office said.

Congressional Democrats were more forceful, saying Republicans wanted to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

“Supplemental funding for Ebola was not enacted as a piggy bank to raid in the event of another health crisis,” Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat and ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said alongside Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat.

While U.S. leaders tussle over their priorities, the World Bank Group on Thursday said it will extend $150 million in financing to Latin American and Caribbean nations that have been affected by Zika transmission.

High rates of transmission, particularly in Brazil, have been linked to a significant uptick in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly.

Zika will cost the region about $3.5 billion — or 0.06 percent of gross domestic product — in lost income in 2016, mostly because pregnant women and their families will avoid travel to the region, according to initial projections by the World Bank.

The damage could grow to more than 1 percent of GDP, however, in Caribbean nations that are heavily dependent on tourism.

“Our analysis underscores the importance of urgent action to halt the spread of the Zika virus and to protect the health and well-being of people in the affected countries,” bank President Jim Yong Kim said. “The World Bank Group stands ready to support the countries affected by this health crisis and to provide additional support if needed.”

The bank acknowledged that its projection assumed there would be a “swift, well-coordinated international response” to the virus, and that Zika’s most significant health risks — and behaviors to avoid infection — apply to pregnant women.The bank said it will revise its projections if scientists confirm a link between Zika and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to paralysis, or discover other troubling things about the virus

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