House Republican Urges Fast Action on Zika Conference Committee

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By Nathaniel Weixel

May 24 — One of the few Republican supporters of President Barack Obama's Zika funding request is asking House and Senate leaders to immediately appoint a conference committee to approve the administration's full request.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), in a May 24 letter, urged the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate to quickly work out the differences between the two very different bills that were passed last week. Buchanan, who was the first Republican to endorse the White House's $1.9 billion request, said both chambers need to provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the full amount of funding it needs to fight the virus.

House Republicans passed a bill (H.R. 2577) along mostly party lines last week that would give the administration $622 million, fully offset, only through the end of fiscal year 2016. The Senate passed an appropriations measure that contained a $1.1 billion emergency funding package with bipartisan support. The White House said neither bill is enough (10 LSLR 11, 5/27/16).

“With funding levels still undecided in the fight against the Zika virus, it is imperative that Congress heed the warnings of our nation’s top health experts and move swiftly and forcibly stop the spread of the mosquito-borne disease,” Buchanan wrote. “The cost of delay is unacceptably high.”

However, finding a compromise won't be easy. House Democrats have spoken out against both the House and Senate measures, and the White House has threatened to veto the House bill. During her weekly press conference May 19, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said she can’t support the Senate initiative “because it’s not enough. It’s half a shoe. You cannot get to where you need to be with half a shoe.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who sponsored the Senate measure along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), has said he expects the House and Senate to go to conference soon and work out the differences between the two bills—a process that could take weeks or even months. He said the two issues that will need to be worked out are how long the funding will last and whether it will be offset.

Obama last week said Congress shouldn't leave on its Memorial Day recess until it sends him a Zika bill, and that view has been embraced by Democrats, including Murray and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

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