After less than a week of formal, bipartisan negotiations on Zika funding, congressional lawmakers have reached a deal. The Democrats, though, aren’t involved.
We “are not a party to any agreement,” Matthew Dennis, the communications director for Democratic House appropriators, said Wednesday night in reaction to the deal’s emergence. “This is an agreement between House [Republicans] and Senate [Republicans].”
Those lawmakers would give $1.1 billion in funding to fight Zika, the same amount the Senate approved last month. But unlike the Senate bill, the new deal would offset more than half, or $750 million, through spending cuts. Lawmakers have been battling for months over Zika funding, which would fuel research into vaccines, build diagnostic tools, and help local governments contain any virus clusters. Zika is spread by certain types of mosquitoes, and it can cause birth defects and an immune-system disorder.
Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski and Minority Leader Harry Reid are recommending that Democratic negotiators not sign off on the Republicans’ proposal when it’s circulated Wednesday night. Republican lawmakers want to file their conference report sometime Wednesday evening on the House floor, though it’s possible a sit-in currently being staged by House Democrats will complicate matters. A floor vote is expected Thursday or Friday.
STAT has more details about where the money would go:
The National Institutes of Health would receive $230 million to help with vaccine work, according to a summary provided to STAT. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $476 million for work on mosquito control and other readiness and response activities.
The State Department and the United States Agency for International Development would receive $165 million to help prevent the spread of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the United States, according to the summary.
The $1.1 billion in new funding would be partially offset by $750 million in spending cuts. The cuts would include $543 million from the Affordable Care Act’s transition fund for US territories, $100 million from another US Department of Health and Human Services fund and $107 million from the remaining Ebola emergency funding, according to a separate summary provided to STAT.
Select members of the House and Senate began official conference talks on a deal last Thursday. Lawmakers did not offer very many hints on what was to come, though they did express their opinions on offsets: Democrats said they did not want any included in an eventual deal, while House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers told reporters offsets would be needed. His office later clarified that offsets were simply part of Rogers’s “opening position.”
Senate Democrats are publicly bristling at provisions they say would damage women’s health and the environment. “I will not support the Republican Zika-Military Construction-VA conference report that limits needed birth control services for women in the United States and Puerto Rico, and includes a troubling pesticides policy rider that endangers clean water protections," Mikulski told Roll Call. Some Democrats have suggested Republican conferees are acting in bad faith. “It is deeply disappointing—in fact, it’s appalling—that after months of dragging their feet, Republicans now plan to introduce a hyperpartisan proposal that is more about throwing red meat to the Tea Party than actually tackling this crisis,” Washington Senator Patty Murray said in a statement Wednesday evening.
The conference talks themselves had been a long time coming: The Obama administration sent a $1.9 billion request to Congress for Zika funding back in February. In May, the House and Senate passed their own plans. Democrats did not love either of those proposals. In their view, the upper chamber’s $1.1 billion in emergency funding through 2017 wasn’t as satisfactory as the White House request. But they preferred it to the House’s offer: $622 million through the end of September, with offsets built in.
The new deal seems like a marriage of those proposals that congressional Democrats can’t condone. Neither can the White House. "This plan from congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus and steals funding from other health priorities," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement late Wednesday evening. Lawmakers had hoped to pass Zika funding before the July 4th recess or at least before the summer break, which starts in mid-July. But without Democrats on board, their plans look even more complicated than they did a week ago.