Policy

Finger Pointing Over Zika Money Sets White House Against Ryan

Earnest warns that warm weather is coming -- and so are the mosquitoes

Aides to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., join the feud with the White House over Zika funding. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan ’s office on Thursday joined an ongoing fight pitting the White House against House Republicans over $1.9 billion in emergency funding the Obama administration wants to combat the Zika virus.  

Ryan and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers , R-Ky., want to move a Zika supplemental spending bill, an aide to the speaker said. But they cannot finish a measure until they receive more information from the administration, the aide said.  

“The request they presented Congress is merely an outline, without the proper budget documents/language/justifications,” a Ryan aide said in an email. “I think they are more interested in politicizing this issue.”  

The aide was referring to the administration's request for Zika funding submitted to Congress in late February. White House officials say that a detailed proposal was submitted in time for lawmakers to make changes and send a bill to President Barack Obama before the mosquitoes that primarily spread the virus swarm across the United States this Spring.  

But with temperatures already warming —  especially in the Southern United States — White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest indicated time might already be up.  

“At some point this summer ... this is going to be dominating the news,” Earnest said Thursday, predicting Zika cases inside the continental U.S. “We did have an opportunity to prepare for it.”  

Who's to Blame? White House officials continue trying to place the blame squarely on congressional Republicans — even before the virus reaches the United States. “I don’t know how Republicans” are going to explain their resistance to the White House funding plan, Earnest said.  

For the second consecutive day, he told reporters that congressional Republicans are not taking the Zika threat seriously.  

He again said GOP members have wasted too much time in responding to the administration's proposal.  

The Zika funding plan the White House sent Congress in February was "not some vague proposal," Earnest said, one day after Rogers complained the administration failed to spell out how the desired $1.9 billion would be spent.  

As constructed, Rogers said Wednesday, the White House’s proposal amounts to a “slush fund.”  

Letters Back and Forth Republicans say they have raised concerns to senior administration officials but received none of the information they requested.  

In a March 7 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger , R-Texas, requested detailed spending plans for specific programs, agencies and other items.  

In a letter dated the same day, Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole , R-Okla., asked Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell for similar information about the administration’s plans for funds that would go to her department.  

Earnest revealed that Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan responded to the GOP members on April 6.  

The Ryan aide was quick to respond, saying administration officials “have not provided sufficient responses to the questions in Granger/Cole letters.”  

Earnest said senior White House officials have reached out to Rogers about his concerns and requests.  

He defended the White House’s work with lawmakers, pointing to the documentation sent over in late February. “The detail that’s included in here will make clear the serious nature of the proposal,” Earnest said.  

He also said none of the back-and-forth in recent days “will change the basic fact of the case.  

“The president made clear in the first week of February that additional funding was going to be necessary. In a couple of weeks, his  . . .  Office of Management and Budget put together a detailed proposal that was sent  . . .  to the speaker of the House and others laying out precisely what was needed,” Earnest said. “Since that time, we’ve not seen not seen any funding appropriated by Congress.  

“Rather than writing letters,” Obama’s chief spokesman said, “we would appreciate Republicans actually doing their job and passing legislation that has nothing to do with politics.”  

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @bennettjohnt. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.