WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday threatened to veto the $1.1 billion approved by the U.S. House of Representatives to fight the Zika virus, blasting the measure for short-changing the administration’s $1.9 billion funding request.
The Republican-controlled House approved the funding deal early Thursday morning after reaching a deal with both House and Senate Republicans.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the bill “falls far short” of the amount of money recommended by health officials to address the spread of the Zika virus.
“This is a bill that would steal money from other critically important public health priorities,” Schultz told reporters at a briefing. “We urge Republicans to stop turning this into a political football, and to actually get to work to come up with proposals that will serve the American people.”
The administration also criticized the bill for limiting contraception access for women seeking to prevent Zika, which can be spread through unprotected sex.
The Senate is expected to vote on funding to combat the Zika virus next week, but the bill faces an uncertain fate in the chamber, where the Democratic minority has more power to stop legislation. Democratic leader Harry Reid has declared his opposition.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan urged the Senate to move on the bill.
“It is a responsible plan that assures the administration will continue to have the needed resources to protect the public,” Ryan said. Republicans said the deal included funding for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
If the Senate approved the bill, a White House veto would likely mean that lawmakers would not take up the issue until the House and Senate return from their July 4 holiday recess - well into the U.S. summer season. The House has already adjourned for holiday and the Senate is expected to start its recess next Friday.
Democrats have been urging Republicans for months to agree to more Zika funding, and the Obama administration has already reprogrammed nearly $600 million that had been set aside to fight Ebola.
House Democrats said they could not go along with the deal because of $750 million in budget cuts elsewhere that the Republicans want to use to pay for the Zika spending.
Senate Democrats also voiced displeasure, clouding the outlook for it passing.
“A narrowly partisan proposal that cuts off women’s access to birth control, shortchanges veterans and rescinds Obamacare funds to cover the cost is not a serious response to the threat from the Zika virus,” Reid said.
According to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, $543 million of the $1.1 billion would come from unspent funds set aside for implementing Obamacare in U.S. territories, while $107 million would come from unused funds to fight another virus, Ebola. Another $100 million would come from unused administrative funds at the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton, Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bernard Orr
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