- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Obama administration and Democratic allies made a last-ditch plea for extra Zika funding Thursday, citing its rapid spread in Puerto Rico and the rising tally of U.S. babies born with defects tied to the disease.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of Centers for Disease Control, said dozens of pregnant women will be infected each day in Puerto Rico, where the illness is spreading by mosquito bite.

Officials said the U.S. mainland could see local transmission soon, as temperatures climb and disease-carrying insects proliferate.

“It is mosquito season, and at any point we could begin to see that phenomenon here,” Dr. Frieden said.

As it stands, pregnant women account for 320 of the 1,130 recorded infections in the states and D.C.

Seven babies have been born with birth defects linked to the Zika virus in the states, and five infected persons reported a form of paralysis associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The administration’s pleas are unlikely to sway Senate Republican leaders, who say they’re done negotiating and want to approve Zika funding before Congress leaves next week for a lengthy recess.

Senate Democrats launched a filibuster last week to stop the $1.1 billion plan crafted by GOP leaders from either chamber, saying it’s not enough money, has too many strings attached and undercuts environmental protections in a rush to eradicate virus-carrying mosquitoes.

They say they already compromised down from President Obama’s request for nearly $1.9 billion, so they want Republican leaders go back and rewrite the measure to allow Zika money to go to Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Republican, urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to divorce the Zika package from a broader bill to fund military construction projects and veterans’ programs. He said the Senate should vote to re-approve a $1.1 billion package that is not offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

That would force the House, which approved a less generous plan earlier this year, to either pass it or reject it on an up-down vote.

“I strongly urge you to advance a bipartisan bill that provides emergency funding and is free of misguided policy riders,” he said.

Republican leaders say they’ve made their final offer, so Democrats should relent and pass the existing deal before Congress departs for the rest of the summer.

They also say the administration hasn’t even spent roughly $600 million that it shifted from the Ebola fight and other accounts in April, so its pleas for more cash ring hollow.

The administration insists it is using every dollar.

“You can’t just push a button and send money out,” Dr. Frieden said. “There are laws that have to be followed.”

The Zika standoff is one of two health measures caught up in a debate over spending and the growing federal deficit.

A similar battle is raging over a package to deal with the prescription opioids and heroin epidemic that is ravaging communities across the U.S.

Republicans shot down Democrats’ efforts Wednesday to add nearly $1 billion in funding to a bill designed to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic, leaving the fate of the measure in doubt as Democrats decide whether they can live without the quick cash injection.

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