- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sen. Roy Blunt said negotiators are nearing a deal that would partially fund President Obama’s $1.9 billion request for emergency spending to combat the Zika virus at home and abroad.

The emerging compromise by Mr. Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, would allow senators to vote on $1.1 billion in Zika funding as an amendment to one of the fiscal 2017 spending bills.

The package will not be attached to the energy and water bill that is on the floor now.

“We should be able to lock that down before too long,” Mr. Blunt said in a brief interview.

For months, the White House has pushed for $1.9 billion to gird for Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that causes birth defects, saying that is what’s needed to develop a better diagnostic test and vaccine for the disease, while boosting mosquito control efforts in the states.

It also wants to backfill nearly $600 million it shifted from other accounts to prepare for Zika right now, including $510 million from the fight against Ebola in West Africa.


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Democrats say they’re willing to tack the money onto the record debt, rather than cut other programs to pay for it, though House conservatives say the package will hit a wall in their chamber if the money is not offset.

Mr. Blunt declined to say whether any of the $1.1 billion would be paid for in the final deal, saying “I think we’ll just have to see what it looks like.”

The talks reflect a deal that senators bandied about last month, though those talks appeared to cool for a while, as Republican senators said they didn’t want to cut Mr. Obama a “blank check” for Zika efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control has recorded 426 travel-related Zika cases in the states and D.C., including a handful through sexual transmission, though the virus is expected to puncture the mainland once temperatures rise, allowing mosquito populations to flourish.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott lobbied for funding on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, saying his state will be at the epicenter of any outbreak because of its warm and wet climate.

The looming hurricane season will only make things worse, he said, and many travelers will stop through his state on the way to the Olympic Games this August in Brazil, where Zika is swirling and causing babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

Mr. Scott said he did not know if $1.9 billion or $1.1 billion was the correct amount to fight the threat. He just wanted Congress to free up money now.

“This is an urgent need for our state,” he said. “What’s important to me is we get together now to get it done.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, has called on Congress to fund the full $1.9 billion request, so long as all of the money is spent on Zika efforts.

Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida became the first House Republican to back the administration’s request last week, citing the death of a Puerto Rican man from complications tied to Zika and new research that shows how the virus harms the fetal brain.

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