Lawmakers Take Different Approaches To Zika Funding

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A top priority for lawmakers before leaving Capitol Hill next month for the presidential nominating conventions is reconciling differences over funding to combat the Zika virus.

The administration has requested $1.9 billion. It also says funding for fighting the Zika virus should qualify as emergency spending, which does not have to be offset and does not count against caps on discretionary spending.

Senators voted to appropriate $1.1 billion that would not be offset. The House voted to allocate $622 million and attempted to pay for it with unused funding that was previously appropriated to address last year’s Ebola epidemic. Unlike the Senate bill and the President’s request, funding in the House legislation would last only for the rest of the fiscal year ending in September.

The President has threatened to veto the House bill, and lawmakers from both parties have criticized congressional leadership for failing to pass compromise legislation, saying the delay needlessly exposes Americans to the dangers of the Zika virus.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, said that “Congress has been on top of the Zika threat from the beginning. Over the past several months, it has made available the money necessary to prepare for an outbreak. In fact, the administration is already spending that money.”  

Absent legislation sent to the President’s desk appropriating new funding and after some lawmakers insisted federal agencies use existing funds to fight the virus, the administration in April repurposed $589 million in Ebola funding. However, it warns that this can only temporarily support anti-Zika efforts and deprives other government activities of needed funding.

The emergency designation should be reserved for items that are necessary, sudden, urgent, unforeseen and temporary. Zika funding in general fits this definition and should not need to be offset.

However, lawmakers should not abuse the designation, given that there is still time to use the regular Fiscal 2017 appropriations process to fund Zika efforts beyond what is immediately necessary.

External links:
Text of House Bill (Congress)
President’s Veto Threat of House Bill (White House)
Text of Senate Bill With Amendment (GPO)
President Obama’s Zika Request (White House)
Speaker Ryan’s Zika Fact Sheet (CQ)

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