White House and Democrats Make Last-Ditch Zika Funding Plea

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Democratic members of Congress and White House officials said the country is beyond a “day late and a dollar short” on allocating funds to combat the Zika virus in a White House conference call urging Congressional action on Thursday.

“We are 4 months and 1.9 billion dollars short,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer has been a consistent voice calling on his Congressional colleagues to pass funding on the virus. And as members to prepare to pack up for summer recess next week, he’s among many ramping up efforts on funding.

In February, President Obama sent a funding request to Congress that he hoped would allow state and federal actors to get ahead of the spread of Zika, which has been linked to developmental defects in infants. According to the CDC, some 320 pregnant women in the U.S. and D.C. and 279 pregnant women in U.S. territories have been infected with the virus; seven infants have been born with developmental disorders linked to the virus. In all, over 3,000 cases of the virus have been reported in the U.S. and its territories.

Legislative action, however, has stalled. House Republicans voted on a controversial Zika funding package amid a Democratic sit-in over gun control last week. That $1.1 funding proposal was later blocked in the Senate because of the inclusion of so-called “poison pills” on environmental regulations, Obamacare, and contraceptives.

“This is how the Zika crisis has been treated,” Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Thursday. “As a matter of partisan politics.”

Just yesterday, the Florida Democrat said, 11 people were diagnosed with the Zika virus in his home state, bringing the total number of cases to 263. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, also of Florida, said if Republican leaders aren’t able to pass funding on Zika before they leave for break it will be a “colossal failure of leadership.”

On Thursday, Nelson said he’d sent a letter to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asking him to bring the $1.1 billion bipartisan Zika funding measure that passed the Senate in May.

Amid the Congressional stalemate — during which both sides have accused each other of political posturing — the White House has some $600 million from other health crises to fund the Zika response.During the call on Thursday, CDC director Tom Frieden said the administration had already moved around the funds it could to cover the crisis until more money is provided.

A White House official said the president has also been calling congressional leaders urging action on funding, calls that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called “intensely frustrating” during Wednesday’s press conference.

“Our public health professionals have been blunt about what resources they need to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus, and Republicans, for some reason, haven’t gotten the message,” Earnest said, noting that though Congressional Republicans have stalled, Republican governors and mayors have been on the front lines of the crisis.

“When faced with this significant emergency, Republicans have not acted on the specific request that our public health professionals have made for funding,” he said. ” And the President has been quite disappointed by all that.”

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