The 52-44 vote on the motion to limit debate on the $1.1 billion anti-Zika funding bill amounted to a last-minute attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move the legislation to the president’s desk with the chamber ready to leave for a seven-week summer recess. Sixty "aye" votes were required to advance the measure.
“It’s time for our friends to start worrying less about pleasing outside political groups and start worrying about actually helping the Americans who are counting on all of us,” McConnell, R-Ky., said, during floor remarks.
Democrats have repeatedly criticized Republicans for including language in the conference report that they say would would prevent funds from going to Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico. Republicans have shot back by saying their position represents a lack of support for pregnant women.
Minority Leader Harry Reid critiqued House Republicans during his floor speech, calling them “crazies.” The Nevada Democrat also said not allowing funds to go to Planned Parenthood’s Pro Familias clinics in Puerto Rico would limit the ability of women to prevent pregnancy while Zika continues to be a threat.
“How could anyone in good conscience vote for that [bill]?” Reid asked, referring to provisions in both the Military Construction-VA and the Zika sections of the conference report. “We can’t and we aren’t going to.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan , R-Wis., slammed Senate Democrats for blocking the Zika aid package at his weekly press conference Thursday.
“They need to drop politics and pass the bill,” Ryan said. He specifically objected to Democratic criticisms of offsets: “They wanted no offsets, we partially offset it with what I would call extremely vanilla offsets.”
As the clock ticked down to the vote, House Appropriations Committee Democrats sent a last-minute letter to Ryan, encouraging Republicans to take a vote on a bill that would allocate the $1.9 billion in emergency funding that President Barack Obama requested in February.
Democrats have made numerous attempts to do the same thing during committee meetings on the fiscal 2017 spending bills. All of those proposals have failed.
The letter followed a final plea from the White House on Wednesday that did not cite a specific dollar amount or the so-called poison pills, but encouraged Congress to pass anti-Zika funding before leaving for recess.
The inability of the Republican-led Congress to pass the legislation is a politically risky move ahead of the recess. The number of infants born with microcephaly linked to the Zika virus will continue to grow in the coming weeks and months, experts say.
Congress is slated to return in September and while the political parties could hash out a deal then, they may likely feel less pressure to act with summer over, unless Zika becomes a larger public health problem.
There are 1,132 confirmed travel-contracted cases of Zika in the continental United States and Hawaii, Obama administration officials have said. There are another 2,500 cases in U.S. territories. As of June 30, there were 320 pregnant women in the continental U.S. with evidence of the virus, and 279 in territories. Puerto Rico has been especially hard hit.
Without any of the 12 fiscal 2017 appropriations bills enacted, they will only have four weeks to negotiate and vote on a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution to keep the government funded past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
However, there is a possibility that bill could include additional money for the CDC and NIH to continue their research and vaccine trials.
Ryan McCrimmon and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.