Policy

Obama: Congress Should Delay Summer Break to Pass Zika Bill

Sticks by demands for full $1.9 billion in budget request

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., plays with 7-month old Max Huijbregts before the start of the Senate Democrats' news conference on May to demand emergency funding to combat the spread of the Zika virus in the United States. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama on Friday said lawmakers should pass a “good” bill to respond to the Zika virus outbreak before leaving for a lengthy summer recess while again insisting on a nearly $2 billion funding level Republicans have firmly rejected.  

After a meeting with top federal health officials, Obama told reporters that Congress should quickly hammer out and send him a spending bill he could accept when they return to Washington after the July 4 holiday.  

"Congress should not adjourn until they get this done," Obama said. Both chambers intend to leave town by July 15 for an extended break that will keep them away until after Labor Day.  

Obama stuck by his demands for the full $1.9 billion he requested in his February budget request, a funding level House Republicans sharply rejected in a Zika conference report (HR 2577 ) the chamber adopted last month.  

"This is actually something that we could reduce the risks if Congress does the right thing and allocates the dollars that are needed right now to get it done," the president said in the Oval Office. "The problem right now is the money is stuck in Congress and we have not seen the House and the Senate come together in a sensible [way] to put forward the dollars that we have requested ... to get the job done.  

"I expect Congress to get this funding done before they leave for vacation, before they adjourn,” he added. “That's part of their basic responsibility."  

Republicans are skeptical that $1.9 billion is needed to combat the virus and question the need for some of the programs requested by the White House in its February proposal. What’s more, Democrats are objecting to policy riders dealing with birth control and language in an unrelated part of the package concerning displays of the Confederate flag.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest this week indicated the administration is not ready to budge, despite the warmer weather and spread of mosquitoes that bear the virus.  

“Why should the president be in a position of twisting arms in Congress?" he asked.  

Sen. Claire McCaskill , D-Mo., said in an interview that Republicans should “take the stuff out of the bill that they put in to purposely kill the bill.”  

Richard C. Shelby , R-Ala., a former Senate appropriator, said this week of the White House: “I think they’re making a mistake. We need to get that money out there.”  

He called the $1.1 billion included in the conference agreement “more than adequate,” warning “the mosquitoes could cause a lot of trouble in this country.”  

Senior White House aides have termed the figure “woefully inadequate.”

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