The Obama administration notified lawmakers Tuesday night that the Pentagon would reprogram $500 million in unobligated funds to support an expanded effort to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to administration officials. Taken on top of last week’s Defense Department move to redirect $500 million to Iraq and the Ebola epidemic, the Pentagon may spend up to $1 billion on combating the deadly disease.
The request comes just hours after President Obama met with federal officials and medical personnel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss U.S. efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
While the White House is obligated to notify Congress about any reprogramming of federal funds, lawmakers do not need to sign off on the funds. The Defense Department is already moving ahead with its earlier reprogramming request.
The administration has already spent $175 million responding to the outbreak, and asked for Congress to approve $88 million in new funding as part of a stop-gap spending bill pending before both chambers.
Lawmakers, including some of the president’s fiercest opponents, are unlikely to question the move. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters he backed the new plan to use the resources of the U.S. military to establish up to 17 treatment centers in Liberia and train as many as 500 health-care workers a week in the region to cope with the outbreak.
"I also think the Ebola funding is important,” McConnell said, when asked about the temporary spending bill. “I think what the administration's doing is correct, and therefore I'll be voting for the continuing resolution assuming it comes over as we think it is from the House."
An administration official noted that it was too early to tell if all of the redirected Pentagon funds would go toward the Ebola response effort, or whether some of it would eventually be spent on other humanitarian crises.