- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

A House-passed deal to combat the Zika virus might be doomed in the Senate, where Democrats say it is not enough to stem the mosquito-borne threat and help pregnant women whose unborn children might develop defects in the womb.

House Republican leaders brushed aside a Democratic “sit-in” over guns early Thursday and ushered the $1.1 billion measure to passage, 239-171, as part of a broader spending bill that funds military construction and veterans programs.

But the White House blasted the package as “four months late and nearly a billion dollars short” of its request for $1.9 billion, issuing a veto threat, while Senate Democrats threatened a filibuster ahead of a test vote early next week.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said provisions that bar funding for Planned Parenthood will hamper efforts to stop the disease, which can be spread sexually and has been linked to microcephaly — a condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads.

“This is all some women have. That’s the only care they have, the only place they can go,” the Nevada Democrat said of Planned Parenthood, a women’s health clinic and abortion provider that’s been mired in controversy since undercover videos purported to show officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

The impasse leaves little room for compromise after months of bitter negotiations, and there is little time to act before the party nominating conventions in mid-July.

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Mr. Obama asked for nearly $2 billion in new spending in February, but GOP leaders were skeptical about the amount, how it would be spent and why the administration hadn’t searched for spending cuts elsewhere in the massive federal budget to pay for the request.

Congressional negotiators instead melded a House plan that would take $622 million from the lingering fight against Ebola in West Africa and other health accounts with a bipartisan Senate plan that offers $1.1 billion without paying for it with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

The resulting package offsets $750 million of the spending by taking $107 million from the Ebola fight — the administration already shifted over $500 million from it — $100 million in unspent administrative funding from the Health and Human Services Department, and $543 million in Obamacare funding that had been earmarked for territories to set up web-based insurance exchanges.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats should accept the agreement that emerged from a conference between the chambers, since it matched spending levels they’ve already approved.

“The House did its part, now the Senate needs to do its part — and this agreement represents our only chance to put Zika control money to work now,” Mr. McConnell said.

The Zika outbreak is centered in South America, particularly in Brazil, where doctors have noted a link between the disease and an uptick in babies born with microcephaly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded more than 750 travel-related cases of Zika in the 50 states and D.C., a handful of them through sexual transmission, though experts say the virus could puncture the mainland further once summer ramps up and Aedes mosquitoes flourish.

So far, three babies have been born in the U.S. with birth defects that resulted from Zika infection, according to the CDC.

“We know that this is something we have to get on top of,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said.

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