GOP Lawmakers Slam Obama Plan to 'Raid' Bioterror Fund for Zika

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April 28 — The Obama administration's plan to “raid” medical countermeasures funding to combat the Zika virus may deplete the U.S.'s ability to respond to bioterror threats, Republican lawmakers said in an April 28 letter.

The administration's proposal “risks further damaging fragile public-private partnerships by eroding confidence in the federal government’s commitment to procure medical countermeasures,” the letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said.

It asked that the legislative proposal to change the requirements for procuring money from the BioShield Special Reserve Fund (SRF) be removed from President Barack Obama's Zika emergency funding request. The letter was signed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.); Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.); Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.); and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

An HHS spokesman didn't respond to Bloomberg BNA's e-mail request for comment.

‘Substantial Statutory Change.'

Obama asked Congress for $1.9 million in emergency funding to fight the outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to severe birth defects (10 LSLR 04, 2/19/16).

The Republican letter said the legislative proposal that's included in the funding request would make “a substantial statutory change” to remove the requirement for countermeasures procured under the SRF to be linked to a “material threat” determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Instead, under the proposal, a procurement from the fund would be allowed for any countermeasure that the HHS deems be necessary to diagnose, mitigate, prevent or treat any infectious disease that could threaten public health, the letter said.

“The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget proposed decreasing funding for the SRF by $160 million. Just weeks later, the Administration then proposed expanding what would be eligible for these targeted resources. These actions do not instill confidence that the federal government is the committed partner needed in these public-private partnerships,” the lawmakers said.

Blurs Public Health, National Security

The letter added that the administration's proposal blurs the distinction between public health and natural security threats and that it's at odds with the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense for HHS to prioritize emerging infectious diseases and to use that prioritization to inform funding requests (9 LSLR 1233, 10/30/15).

The lawmakers asked the Obama administration to remove the legislative proposal from the emergency spending request and to discuss the matter separately with the House Energy and Commerce and Senate HELP committees.

To contact the reporter on this story: John T, Aquino in Washington at jaquino@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bna.com