The debate in the Senate didn’t look so dire last week. After months of no movement, lawmakers appeared to have a modest breakthrough: Senate appropriators announced at a markup meeting that they were closing in on a Zika deal. But the chief negotiators, Murray and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, still needed to accomplish two difficult tasks: settling on an exact dollar figure and determining how to get the funding through Congress. Behind closed doors, though, some Democrats said any lower-dollar deal would be insufficient, CNN reported earlier this week:
But when Democrats huddled in their weekly policy lunch in the Capitol Tuesday rank-and-file senators pushed back against the emerging deal and pressed their leaders to go back the table and insist Republicans approve Obama's full request, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion. Those Democrats argued that any deal eventually cut with House Republicans would likely pare back Obama's original request even further so Senate Democrats should fight to preserve as much of it as they can in the Senate bill now.
The same day, Senate lawmakers were publicly disagreeing on how far along the deal had gotten.
A bill proposed by Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, which called for full funding of the White House’s $1.9 billion request, has perhaps an even bleaker outlook. Reid has repeatedly insisted that he won’t support anything less than the full $1.9 billion. Nita Lowey, the top House Democratic appropriator, has suggested the same; she introduced a supplemental funding bill this week. Blunt, speaking on the floor Thursday, said there’s “almost no chance” the Senate would pass that amount, and it “absolutely” wouldn’t squeak by the House. “This is something we can work out, I believe we will work out,” Blunt said from the floor. “But the goal is not for the Senate to pass a bill. The goal is for the Congress to pass a bill and the president of the United States to sign that bill and I believe that will happen and many people, including me, are working to see that that happens.”
On Thursday, as it became clear no funding would be passed before the recess, a succession of Democratic women were joined by Senator Marco Rubio in venting their frustrations from the chamber floor. Murray claimed that “extreme right-wing” conservatives have “beaten back” colleagues more willing to work on funding. Never one to mince words, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren accused Republicans of “failing” Americans and shirking their governmental duty to protect “from serious threats.” Rubio, Warren’s ideological opposite, seemed to agree with her. “The money is going to be spent,” said the Florida senator, who broke from his caucus on Zika funding earlier this month and who—it’s worth noting—isn’t running for re-election. “And the question is, Do we do it now before this has become a crisis, or do we wait for it to become a crisis? And maybe that crisis happens in August, when everyone is back home doing their campaign stuff, or maybe it happens on Monday” when lawmakers are on recess.
It’s entirely possible that informal talks will continue while lawmakers are away; the House is in recess, too. Democrats are no doubt hoping their Republican counterparts get an earful from constituents back home. But the public won’t know the product of those discussions until Congress is back May 9.