Two months ago, the Obama administration asked for roughly $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus. Public-health officials were eager to get money for vaccine research and more. “We are hopeful that Congress will recognize the urgency of this request and act quickly on it,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at a February briefing, accompanied by health-agency officials. “This sort of falls in the category of things that shouldn’t break down along party lines.”
But break down it did. House Republicans, who’d need to sign off on the spending, told the White House to repurpose money appropriated to fight Ebola. The administration maintained Ebola funds wouldn’t cut it, but nevertheless announced it would divert $600 million while it waited on more from Congress.
Now, even top public-health officials seem willing to join the political fight. At a press briefing on Monday, they reminded reporters how much work on Zika still needs to be done—and just how much money they’ll need to do it. “I don’t have what I need right now,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, referring to funding for his agency. He added: “When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion.” When Fauci last spoke to White House reporters in February, along with the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, the two officials didn’t wade into the funding battle much at all. On Monday, Fauci was particularly vocal about the urgency of the funding request, insisting—as other agency directors did earlier this month—that the full $1.9 billion is needed.