House Zika Bill Proposed, Conservatives Gear Up for Fight

Appropriations package far smaller than what Senate, White House say is needed

The House Appropriations chairman has introduced a bill to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus that is less than what the Senate and the White House want. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The House Appropriations chairman has introduced a bill to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus that is less than what the Senate and the White House want. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Posted May 16, 2016 at 5:00am

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers   unveiled a $661 million
Zika aid package
on Monday that falls far short of compromise Senate legislation and what the White House says is necessary to fight the mosquito-borne virus.  

“This legislation 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 in a statement.  

“The legislation funds these efforts in a responsible way, using existing resources — including excess funding left over from the Ebola outbreak — to pay for it,” the Kentucky Republican said.  

Zika is known to cause serious birth defects and more than three dozen states and territories as well as the District of Columbia have reported cases. Pregnant women and infants are at special risk.  

The House committee plan is about half the size of a $1.1 billion compromise emergency funding proposal hashed out in the Senate between Patty Murray , D-Wash., and Roy Blunt , R-Mo.   

Rogers said the money in his bill would be available through September, and any future funding would be considered as part of the ongoing fiscal 2017 appropriations process.  

Rogers insisted for several weeks that his package would be offset, which means no new federal money would be spent. That is in contrast to the Blunt-Murray deal, which would allocate emergency funding without offsets and if agreed to by senators would be attached to a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill.  

Rogers expects the proposal to be part of fiscal 2016 supplemental spending legislation to be taken up on the House floor “early next week” and that he believes there will be enough support to pass it despite Democratic opposition.  

[Related: Zika Funding Fight Reignites]
Conservatives are gearing up for a fight over Zika aid, demanding any package be fully paid for.  

“If lawmakers decide additional funding [is] necessary, those funds should be fully offset either through reprogramming or spending as part of the FY17 appropriations process,” Dan Holler, vice president of communications and government relations for conservative group Heritage Action for America, said in a statement on Friday.  

Though Rogers has proposed Zika as a standalone bill, the legislation could also hitch a ride on the House’s fiscal 2017 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill (HR 4974 ) expected on the House floor next week.  

That’s because the House legislation, approved out of full committee in April, contains language related to the Zika virus that would provide procedural protections for amendments proposing Zika aid.  

Senators have already used a procedure to link the House’s fiscal 2017 Military Construction-VA measure to a joint Transportation-HUD and Military Construction-VA package (HR 2577 ) brought to the floor Thursday, so that Zika amendments are fair game under Senate procedure.  

[Related: Ryan Feels the Pinch on Zika Funding]
“The process and the procedure I think has still yet to be determined,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said when asked whether Rogers’ Zika package could be folded into his Military Construction-VA measure.  

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., also wouldn’t divulge details on the procedural route for Zika last week.  

The package is likely to rile House Democrats, as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., has already thrown water on the Senate’s plan. Pelosi said Thursday that $1.1 billion would be “completely inadequate.”  

A Democratic appropriations aide, speaking on background, suggested offsets are off the table for Democrats.  

“We don’t offset emergency funding, period.  And this is the definition of a public health emergency. The vaccines, diagnostics, and mosquito control are needed now — not after Congress gets done haggling about an offset,” the aide said.  

As to the $1.1 billion level, the aide said “the bottom line is that mounting the response needed to protect American communities from Zika costs $1.9 billion.  Pinching pennies from the emergency priorities needed now will only cost more — in dollars and lives — later.”  

And Senate Democrats aren’t all on the same page when it comes to Zika : Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev ., issued a statement Thursday afternoon blasting the $1.1 billion funding level.  

While Murray has said publicly she believes the president’s $1.9 billion request is the funding level needed, her agreement with Blunt on the $1.1 billion package triggered an objection from Reid.  

“Fulfilling half of the president’s request is at most a paltry band-aid that will come too late and fail to address the scope of this crisis,” Reid said.  

On the Senate side, lawmakers are expected to take votes on three different Zika aid packages Tuesday, two of which are emergency funding packages and one of which contains offsets, from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn , R-Texas.  

Ryan McCrimmon, Bridget Bowman and  Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.