Image:Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen at the Laboratory of Entomology and Ecology of the Dengue Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in San Juan, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
By Richard Cowan and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try to pass legislation this week providing $622.1 million in funds to fight the spreading Zika virus, far less than the Obama administration has been seeking.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers introduced the measure on Monday, according to a statement. The bill would offset the new spending by taking $352.1 million from an Ebola fund and another $270 million from a Department of News and Human Services administrative account.
The bill “will make dollars available to fight the disease now, prioritizing critical activities that must begin immediately, such as vaccine development and mosquito control,” Rogers said.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects and other neurological disorders and is beginning to show up in warm climates in U.S. southern states such as Florida.
The Obama administration in February called for $1.9 billion in emergency funds that would not result in any government spending cuts elsewhere.
The White House and health officials have expressed concerns in the past with taking money from Ebola programs to pay for Zika virus efforts.
But in April, after the Republican-led Congress did not act, it found a temporary fix to fund the fight against Zika by redirecting $589 million, mostly from Ebola funds.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that congressional inaction on supplemental funding meant that health officials are forced to resort to the equivalent of “digging through the sofa cushions to try to come up with the necessary money.”
The House bill is also at odds with legislation being debated in the Senate. Competing proposals there would either give Obama the full $1.9 billion or at least $1.1 billion.
The Senate is expected to cast initial votes on the alternatives on Tuesday.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of being “beyond reckless” by being slow to send money to combat a “raging virus.”
If the House and Senate approve competing versions they would have to reconcile their differences and pass one uniform bill before sending it to Obama for signing into law.
Of the $622.1 million proposed by House Republicans, $230 million would go to the National Institutes of News to help support the development of vaccines to stop the spread of Zika.
Other funds would be contributed to global health programs, through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, and for the development of rapid diagnostic tests.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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