- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The House brushed aside President Obama’s veto threat and passed a bill Wednesday that takes hundreds of millions from the Ebola fight and other federal accounts to fight the Zika virus, laying down a marker that’s only a third of what the White House wanted to combat the mosquito-borne illness.

Approved 241-184, the legislation provides nearly $500 million less than a Zika proposal moving through the Senate and is far below the $1.9 billion package that Mr. Obama requested in February.

Unlike those proposals, the House fully paid for its $622 million plan by using existing federal funds instead of tacking the expense onto the deficit, setting up a clash over how to proceed.

Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and Appropriations Committee chairman, said the administration failed to justify its full request, so he determined what was necessary to fight the Zika virus over the next five months.

He said additional funding could be freed up during the annual spending process for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“Every child deserves the chance at a full and healthy life, and every mother deserves to see her child survive,” Mr. Rogers said. “This measure will help make this happen for sure, in an effective, efficient and responsible way.”

SEE ALSO: Marco Rubio pleads with GOP to fund full Zika request, backfill money later

Democrats and at least one House Republican on Wednesday said the GOP plan shortchanges states on the front lines of a potential outbreak. They said the government should borrow nearly $2 billion to meet the administration’s demands, saying there is neither the time nor enough waste to find the money elsewhere in the country’s $4 trillion budget.

“The lives of thousands of infants are potentially at risk. There’s no excuse for failure to act responsibly and swiftly,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, who wants to fully fund Mr. Obama’s request.

Mr. Obama insists that scientists need the full amount to develop and better diagnostic test and vaccine for Zika, which causes birth defects, while bolstering efforts to kill the mosquitoes that ferry the virus.

He said he will reject the House’s bill because it ignores his funding level and taps more Ebola money, instead of backfilling the $510 million he already took from that fight to prepare for the latest health scare.

“The only thing that Republicans in the House have come forward with is funding at like a third of the level that our public health experts recommend, but taking every single penny of that money away from efforts to protect the American people from Ebola,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “That is a dumb approach.”

A bid to attach Mr. Obama’s full request to a Senate funding bill failed to advance Tuesday. Instead, senators voted 68-29 to head off a potential filibuster of a $1.1. billion deal brokered by both parties.

Zika is a little-known virus that festered for decades in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region before globe-hopping to Latin America, where it is causing serious birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control has recorded 500 travel-related cases of Zika in the states and D.C., a handful of them through sexual transmission, and scientists say the virus could puncture the mainland further once temperatures climb and disease-carrying mosquitoes flourish.

The House voted hours after the World Health Organization told Europe to gird for the Zika virus, underscoring the potential reach of the disease.

Portugal’s Madeira islands and stretches of Russia and Georgia on the Black Sea are home to the primary mosquito that carries Zika, and therefore face the highest risk, according to the global health arm of the U.N. Eighteen countries are at “moderate” risk because they host a second, though less threatening, breed of mosquito that can ferry the virus. France, Italy and Malta face the most danger in this group.

The rest of the WHO’s European member states — 36 countries — have a low risk of transmission, because their climates aren’t hospitable to the disease-carrying insects.

“We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s regional director for Europe.

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