Congressional lawmakers started formal negotiations last week on Zika funding, but things aren’t moving fast enough for House Democrats.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee announced plans Tuesday to compel a floor vote on a bill fully funding the Obama administration’s $1.9 billion Zika request, Morning Consult reports. Led by committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, members will begin gathering signatures Tuesday night on a discharge petition, a procedural move that would force a vote if enough members sign onto it.
Lowey is representing the Democratic caucus in bipartisan conference negotiations on Zika, but in a call with reporters explaining the discharge petition, Lowey did not seem optimistic about the talks. Roll Call reports:
She said that the House and Senate conference committee on Zika funding is continuing discussions on a compromise measure but that Democrats were discouraged by the first meeting and feel that a discharge petition may help spur action more quickly.
“We don’t have an agreement and there’s no guarantee any agreement we reach will pass muster with the Republican leadership,” Lowey said of the conference committee.
There’s also no guarantee House Democrats will be successful using the discharge petition, a move The Washington Post has noted rarely works. They need to gather 218 signatures—or an absolute majority of the House—but Democrats only occupy 188 seats in Congress. Their Republican colleagues have not been amenable to the Obama administration’s request so far, so there’s little indication they will join plans to force a vote on the funding.
The bill Democrats hope to advance, which Lowey introduced in April, has been idling in committee. In May, the Senate passed a $1.1 billion compromise that would fund Zika research and anti-mosquito measures on an emergency basis, while the House passed $622 million in funding. The House bill, which Democrats in both chambers are vehemently against, is fully offset, in part using leftover Ebola funds. Lawmakers are attempting to reconcile their proposals, but it’s not clear when the next conference committee meeting will be, or when negotiations will conclude.
Given the difficult task of persuading Republicans to come to their side, House Democrats will likely be more successful using the petition for messaging purposes. They and their Senate counterparts have been criticizing the delay in Zika funding for months. If the discharge petition doesn’t work, Democrats can use it against House Republicans as they try to convince the American people they’re being more responsible on Zika.