Republicans Back Rider-Free Zika Bill

Get complete, dependable coverage of the regulation at every stage in the chemical life cycle, including comprehensive news on REACH, the Toxic Substances Control Act, up-to-date HAZMAT guidance,...

By David Schultz and Brian Dabbs

Sept. 13 — A group of House Republicans from Florida is backing compromise legislation that would provide $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus outbreak and contains none of the policy riders that were the source of a months-long partisan battle.

The bill, H.R. 5958, doesn’t include a provision that would have loosened environmental regulations on pesticides by allowing farmers and others to spray pesticides near bodies of water without first obtaining an EPA water pollution permit. House Republicans had been floating this provision in Congress for years and had attached it to earlier versions of the Zika funding bill.

The compromise legislation also has been stripped of provisions that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood-affiliated groups and would have diverted funding from the Affordable Care Act, two items that were major road blocks in reaching an agreement.

The bill’s funding would go to both mosquito control efforts and biomedical research to aid the search for cures and a potential vaccine for the mosquito-borne disease, which causes catastrophic prenatal brain damage.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, declined to say whether he would back the compromise. Staffers with House Republican leadership told Bloomberg BNA that the decision will be up to appropriators like Rogers.

‘The Bigger, The Better.’

Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.), a member of the Tea Party-affiliated House Freedom Caucus, said the dire situation posed by the virus overwhelmed his usual opposition to federal spending. Clawson was joined by his fellow Florida Republicans David Jolly and Carlos Curbelo, along with several Florida Democrats, at an emotional Sept. 13 press conference urging support for the compromise bill.

“By God, if there’s one moment the government ought to act and do something, even if cost is involved, this is that moment,” Clawson, who introduced the compromise Zika bill, said. “If we don’t move to spend a little bit now, we’re going to spend a lot later.”

Clawson added that he would prefer a bill that allocates even more than $1.1 billion. “The bigger, the better,” he said.

Pesticides and Water

Republican support for a rider-free Zika bill represents a defeat for Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the primary backer of the pesticides provision.

Gibbs initially introduced it as a stand-alone bill, but its chances greatly improved after it was attached to the House’s emergency Zika funding bill. The Ohio lawmaker, who represents an agricultural district, urged Senate lawmakers to retain the pesticide language, while conceding that prospect is now unclear.

“They should keep it in because it makes it easier for mosquito control districts that do preventative spraying,” Gibbs told Bloomberg BNA. Gibbs pointed to a July recommendation from the CDC and other public health officials to combat Zika with aerial spraying, arguing his language would ensure that tactic doesn’t violate the Clean Water Act.

“We’re not even talking about aerial spraying. We’re just talking about ‘let’s have a common sense permitting process so we can do regular maintenance spraying to kill the larva and mosquitoes … ground spraying,’ ” he told Bloomberg BNA.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Attached to CR?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Sept. 13 to tackle Zika in an upcoming stopgap funding bill that would keep the government running past Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. Senate lawmakers are aiming to release a continuing resolution in the coming days.

“We’re making good progress toward resolving all of the moving parts, and ultimately we’ll move a [continuing resolution] that addresses Zika and other matters,” said McConnell, who is backing President Barack Obama’s call for a bill that authorizes federal spending through Dec. 9.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third highest-ranking Senate Republican, suggested Democrats would force Congress to shed the pesticide language.

“It’s probably going to be a heavy lift around here,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Democratic Opposition

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) railed against the pesticide language on the Senate floor and said Democrats wouldn’t consider a stopgap bill until the Zika matter is resolved.

“The Senate must address Republicans’ absurd rider on the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said. “Republicans want to weaken the Clean Water Act by exempting pesticides spraying, and Democrats will not accept that.”

House Democrats echoed that opposition.

“My recommendation to Republican is ‘don’t put language in there that is controversial,’ ” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters.

‘Please Jam Us.’

At the Zika legislation press conference, Jolly said the compromise Zika bill could pass if the Senate acts first by attaching it to a continuing resolution and then adjourns quickly thereafter, denying the House an opportunity to craft its own package.

Jolly said he was speaking with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and asked him to “please jam us with a clean [resolution] and leave town so we have to accept it.”

Dean Scott in Washington contributed to this story.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dSchultz@bna.com; Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.