The Senate on Thursday reached a bipartisan deal that would provide $1.1 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus, breaking a months-long standoff over how much spending is needed to address the growing public health threat.
The funding package was introduced as an amendment to a spending bill that is expected to be considered next week. Senators will also have the opportunity to vote on an option that would fully fund White House’s $1.9 billion request and a separate GOP-backed proposal that would use $1.2 billion in cuts to an Affordable Care Act program to offset the cost of $1.1 billion in Zika spending.
Meanwhile, House Republicans are preparing to unveil their own proposal next week that is expected to provide less than $1 billion in funding. It is not expected to have the support of Democrats.
The Senate compromise option, sponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is expected to get widespread support from Democrats and Republicans, despite falling short of the White House request. The Senate is scheduled to vote on all three amendments Tuesday.
Democrats, including Murray, are expected to vote for the full funding option as well as the compromise to register their support for the White House proposal. Murray told reporters that her deal with Blunt is a good compromise.
“I am very glad that Chairman Blunt and I have been able to work together on an emergency funding bill to quickly respond to the Zika threat,” Murray said in a statement. “I continue to urge my colleagues to support the President’s full request, but I am very encouraged that Democrats and Republicans will be able to come together with a strong step forward to help ensure families across the country are prepared to respond to this emergency.”
The underlying spending bill, which combines funding for military construction and veterans programs with transportation and housing spending, is expected to easily pass the Senate late next week. The legislation faces a less certain fate in the House where Republicans have struggled to reach any agreement on a spending blueprint and have resisted White House calls for immediate action on its Zika request.
House Republicans argue the White House should be able to use funds leftover from battling the Ebola virus to combat Zika. The Obama administration has already tapped the Ebola funds, but continues to request additional funding.
Some in the Senate hope that swift action and broad bipartisan support for the compromise will force House leaders to adopt a similar package, according to several aides. There is a strong chance that none of the individual spending bills that pass the Senate will ever become law, but aides said a Senate-passed Zika funding option could also easily be included in negotiations on a year-end spending bill.
On Friday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters he is finalizing a Zika funding proposal that he plans to release Monday. The measure will total “less than a billion” and would take this funding from money already allocated to other government programs. Democrats are expected to oppose measure both because it would not provide as much as requested by the White House and because it would take funds from other programs.
Rogers said under his proposal the funding would be available immediately and that if needed more could be appropriated in the next fiscal year.
“We’re not sure where it’s going, the experts can’t really tell us for sure what’s going to be needed when and how,” Rogers said. “The money we’re talking about will take care of fiscal 16, and then we’ll see how it evolves.”