Congress goes home for July 4 after another Zika impasse

Congress took a break for the July 4 holiday after reaching another impasse on funding to combat the Zika virus that has caused birth defects in Mexico and the Caribbean.

“Senate Democrats on Tuesday shot down a House-passed bill that would
have provided $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus, citing
opposition to the measure’s changes in pesticide regulations and
restrictions on money for birth control,” Fox News reports. The bill would also “rob Obamacare of funding, impose new restrictions on Planned Parenthood
and provide some $800 million less than the Obama administration is
seeking,” Politico reports, and “allow the Confederate
flag to fly at veterans’ cemeteries.”

“In the short term, Democrats are more open to criticism: After clamoring
for new Zika funding for months, they are set to vote against a bill at
funding levels they’ve already agreed to,” Politico notes. “But given the history on legislative impasses, Democrats are betting that the majority party will be held responsible by voters.”

Republicans remained firm. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “suggested that, barring a sudden deal, there may be no vote until the upper chamber returns in September.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada “pressed for negotiations to resume and bemoaned that both parties agreed
in May to a $1.1 billion Zika bill, only for House Speaker Paul Ryan to
make changes,” Fox reports. “Reid argues those changes appeased the chamber’s
conservative conference, but resulted in an unacceptable piece of
legislation.”

President Obama asked for $1.9 billion for Zika in February. “The Republicans
controlling Congress instead forced the administration to redirect more
than $500 million in unspent Ebola-fighting funds to combat Zika,” Fox notes. After the House passed a bill with less than a third of the money Obama wanted, Republicans in the House and Senate agreed on a $1.1
billion plan with the added
provisions and spending cuts to pay for it.

“Democrats particularly opposed a provision that
restricts the use of $95 million worth of federal grants to provide
services such as birth control to women in Puerto Rico threatened by the
virus. Democrats charged that the restrictions were targeted at clinic
on the island run by Planned Parenthood, a group loathed by many
anti-abortion Republicans,” Fox reports. “In addition to the limits on Planned Parenthood, the
bill would temporarily lift Clean Water Act permitting requirements on
pesticide spraying for municipalities and other large-scale users.”

A lobbyist for the March of Dimes, which advocates for
maternal and fetal health, told Politico that the Republican bill was “doomed from the
start.” Cindy Pellegrini continued, “We have a hard time imagining an issue that could be more of an
emergency than an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes that
destroys babies’ brains in utero. The package looked
like it was not designed to be successful and that was deeply troubling
for us.”

Obama said Friday that a Zika vaccine could be developed in “fairly short order” once Congress enacts the funding. University of Kentucky researchers are among those working on that.

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