Zika talks to end soon, Republican negotiators promise
By Associated Press | June 15, 2016, 17:29 EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in control of negotiations on long-delayed funding to combat the Zika virus are promising a quick agreement. Behind-the-scenes negotiations have focused on a potential deal in the range of a $1.1 billion measure passed by the Senate last month.
A trickier issue involves whether to pair the Zika funds with cuts to other programs as the House of Representatives calls for to defray the measure’s effect on the budget deficit. Democrats, whose votes may be needed to pass the final measure, are against the idea.
Zika can cause horrible birth defects and can be transmitted by mosquitoes that are common in much of the United States. A top U.S. public health official warned last week that epidemics can spread very rapidly and urged Congress to act quickly on funding to help combat the virus.
“Give us the money so we can work with American women and children and families to monitor the effects of Zika, so we can do a better job at killing mosquitoes to protect American women, and so we can develop better tools to diagnose Zika, to control mosquitoes and ultimately, with NIH in the lead, to find a vaccine to protect women,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at an event in Atlanta last Thursday.
The Obama administration’s $1.9 billion request, made in February, would allow officials to continue Zika prevention efforts and begin studying long-term effects of people infected by the disease, Frieden said.
In Congress, the House and Senate each passed Zika bills that would provide funding at levels lower than the administration’s request. The Senate proposal includes $1.1 billion without spending cuts to offset the expense, while the House has backed a $622 million measure with cuts elsewhere.
“I know that there are people of good will in both houses of Congress, in both parties, who understand it’s an emergency, who want to make it happen,” Frieden said. “Congress did the right thing with Ebola, and I’m hopeful they’ll do the right thing in Zika. The sooner they do it, the better it’s going to be.”
House and Senate negotiators officially met on Wednesday, but only to make opening speeches to satisfy a requirement for at least one public negotiating session.
Written by Andrew Taylor and Kathleen Foody