Democrats Step Up Pressure for Money to Combat Zika Virus

The mantra from Democrats in both chambers this week is that Congress needs to act post haste on funding to combat the Zika virus.

Senate Democrats said they won’t try to amend the Energy and Water Development bill now on the floor with a Zika supplemental but are upping the pressure on Republicans to turn to Zika before they leave for recess at the end of this week.

The latest push comes as negotiations between appropriators on a compromise on Zika funding appear to have slowed.

In the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters he and other leaders are still waiting for the administration to answer questions about how Zika money would be spent. The appropriations process is “the best place to handle it,” because there’s enough money to deal with Zika for the rest of this fiscal year, the California Republican said.

“We’re not going to interfere with the Energy and Water appropriations bill, but we must do something to confront this scourge that’s facing our country and the western part of the world,” Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in his opening floor statements today.

Minority Whip Dick Durbin reached for a biblical analogy to make the case that Congress needs to act sooner rather than later to prevent the virus from spreading. Noting that Noah built the ark before the floods, Durbin said on the floor that “It is reckless. It is dangerous to delay.”

Congress has had Obama’s emergency request for more than two months, the Illinois Democrat added.

After an initial cold response to Obama’s emergency $1.9 billion Zika request, Republican leaders have more recently suggested they would be willing to provide at least some of that money. Senate Republican appropriators say they are working on deal to add Zika funds to one of the upcoming spending bills.

“We are pleased that Republicans have moved and recognized it as an emergency. It now needs to get on the floor. We need a path to getting passage,” Democratic SenatorPatty Murray of Washington said. She declined to say whether Zika bill content has been agreed to.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who’s negotiating on the funding, said a deal on Zika is getting close but he didn’t know if it would be done this week.

“Conceptually on my side of the aisle more and more realize we have to do a Zika bill and it has to be an emergency supplemental,” he said. However, Graham said the complete $1.9 billion request “isn’t going to fly.” He also said the USAID portion of the emergency funding would be about $240 million to $250 million after being “scrubbed.” That amount is less than Obama requested.

House Democrats yesterday introduced standalone legislation to fund Obama’s request to combat the Zika virus after their efforts failed to add the money to the fiscal 2017 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill during a markup of that measure.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said his committee is evaluating the threat posed by the Zika virus and probably will propose an emergency supplemental spending bill to address it this year.

WATER WRAPPING UP?: The Senate is moving closer to wrapping up work on H.R. 2028, the legislative vehicle for the Energy and Water Development appropriation, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday filed for cloture on the substitute amendment and the underlying bill. The vote on limiting debate on the substitute amendment will be held tomorrow unless an agreement is reached to move it earlier.

REAL-TIME UPDATES: Use Bloomberg Government to track the latest minute-by-minute actions on Energy and Energy and Water bill and other appropriations measures as they’re on the floor.

The Senate today adopted an amendment (No. 3812) that would make $95.4 million of renewable energy funds available for wind energy by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.It’s also scheduled to consider one  (No. 3820) by Arizona Republican Jeff Flake that would cut about $69 million in Army Corps of Engineers construction funds.

The underlying measure would provide $37.5 billion for the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, parts of the Interior Department and other agencies. That’s $355 million more than was allocated in fiscal 2016 and $261 million more than President Barack Obama requested. A pilot nuclear waste storage facility would be authorized under the measure. For more detail, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Adam Schank.

T-THUD ON DECK: The Senate as soon as tomorrow could take up the fiscal 2017 Transportation-HUD spending bill, aides said, after the Commerce-Justice Science spending bill stalled over a provision affecting water policy in the home states of Georgia’s Republican senators. Majority Whip John Cornyn said the bill was tentatively next in line after the Senate completes Energy and Water.

Johnny Isakson and David Perdue have told McConnell and Reid that they would oppose any appropriations vehicle that includes language C-J-S Chairman Richard Shelby wants dealing with how the Army Corps of Engineers monitors states’ water rights and withdrawals.

WEDNESDAY HEARING OUTLOOK: A showdown between House Republicans and Obama over a demand by defense hawks to use more emergency war money to increase military spending is likely to erupt tomorrow when the Armed Services Committee marks up the defense authorization bill. Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron hasdetails of the proposal, as well as a preview of Wednesday’s markup.

The measure, H.R. 4909, would authorize taking an additional $18 billion for Pentagon spending from overseas contingency operations. Democrats and Obama oppose such a move, claiming it breaches November’s two-year spending agreement that lifted the caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $15 billion each.

* The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee plans a hearing on the fiscal 2017 Pentagon budget.
* The Senate Budget Committee plans a hearing on changes to the budgeting process. The former acting director of the Congressional Budget Office, Barry Anderson, is among those scheduled to testify.
* Two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees examine fiscal year 2017 funding requests for activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Western hemisphere.

STAFFER SHUFFLE: Matt Leffingwellhas been hired as the Appropriations Committee’s director of member services and coalitions and will manage outreach to the Republican conference and non-government entities, according to a statement from Chairman Hal Rogers. Leffingwell is a former chief of staff for Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas , who also is member of the Appropriations panel. He previously served as senior director of government relations for international advocacy group ONE Action, co-founded by U2 front-man Bono.

DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS: As House and Senate Budget committee Chairmen Tom Price and Mike Enzi each craft legislation to overhaul the federal budget process, their comments are making clear that they have significant differences in timing and approach, Bloomberg BNA’s Jonathan Nicholson reports. Enzi wants to move legislation this year while Price wants to wait until a new president is in office.