- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sen. Marco Rubio begged his Republican colleagues Tuesday to fully fund President Obama’s nearly $2 billion request to combat the Zika virus, saying it is really “the scientists’ request” and that Congress can easily backfill the money if it shows the will.

Mr. Rubio, a Florida Republican whose state faces a serious outbreak, has broken with the GOP caucus and supported the $1.9 billion package favored by the White House.

The administration wants to treat that money as emergency spending akin to hurricane relief and tack it onto the deficit.

Mr. Rubio’s willingness to follow that plan puts him at odds with conservative groups who’ve demanded that any Zika funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“We can do that, we should do that, I’m in favor of doing that,” he said of finding the cuts.

But he said it would be “short-sighted” to wait any longer or “low-ball” the U.S. response to Zika, which is causing birth defects in Latin America.

Florida accounts for about one in five of the 500 travel-related cases of Zika recorded in the U.S. so far, and the mosquito-borne virus could swirl on its own once temperatures climb.

Mr. Rubio also supports a bipartisan plan to pony up $1.1 billion for the Zika fight, although he argued it is a less attractive approach.

“Why are we taking this chance? It makes absolutely no sense,” he said.

Mr. Rubio’s break with fellow Republicans comes just two months after he ran as a conservative candidate for president.

The Floridian lobbied to pay for the Zika package down the road, saying $2 billion for an emergency — unlike entitlement spending — is hardly a major driver for the nation’s $18 trillion debt, so it shouldn’t be hard to find the money.

He also urged lawmakers to divorce the administration from the actual funding request.

“Fine, it came from the White House,” he said. “But it’s really the scientists’ requests, the doctors’ request, the public health sector’s request for how to address this issue.”

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