U.S. House to attempt passing emergency Zika funds next week

Therapist Rozely Fontoura holds Juan Pedro, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try next week to pass emergency funds to address a potential Zika virus outbreak in the United States, although they have not yet settled on a key component: how much money to spend.

“Hope to be on the floor next week,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said when asked by Reuters whether he was making progress toward a bill.

However, an aide said the Republican-led committee still has not settled on a dollar amount to be appropriated, other than that it will be less than what the Senate is contemplating.

The Senate is expected to cast initial votes on Zika funding on Tuesday as it debates competing measures that range from $1.1 billion to President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion.

Any bill the House produces next week will require that the money being spent on Zika be offset with cuts to other programs, which have not yet been identified, the aide said.

Under the House plan, the money would be available to the Obama administration through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year, with the expectation that more money would be contained in legislation still to be written funding government programs in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Many Republicans in Congress have expressed reservations with Obama’s $1.9 billion request for emergency funds, questioning whether that much was needed and arguing that the spending must be offset by savings elsewhere.

Health experts have urged quick action by Congress, fearing the onset of warmer weather in North America will bring a wave of mosquitoes harboring the Zika virus that already has spread through large areas of the hemisphere.

The virus is associated with the birth defect microcephaly and other severe brain abnormalities, as well as being suspected of causing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that can result in paralysis.

Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Bernard Orr