Policy

Pelosi Urges Emergency Spending on Flint, Zika, Opioids

Spending bills to move despite House GOP divisions over budget

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is urging GOP leaders to move an emergency spending package. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants the House to bring a supplemental spending bill to the floor before adjourning for the spring recess, calling the emerging threat of the Zika virus, opioid abuse and the water crisis in Flint, Mich., "emergencies" that deserve urgent attention.  

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said spending bill markups are moving ahead despite House leaders' announcement Thursday that a budget resolution in the House won't be on the floor until after the spring recess. The Military Construction-VA bill is headed for a markup Wednesday in the House committee, and in the Senate committee on April 14.  

Pelosi said emergency spending is needed as well. "We’d like to see some action on the budget, but in the absence of that, we need a supplemental," the California Democrat said during her weekly news conference.  

"What do we say to the women of America, that so much is at risk, by being bitten by this insect, when we went home without doing something? We’re losing time," she added.  

Pelosi said Democrats want a supplemental package "at least" on the opioid, Flint and Zika issues. She left open the possibility that if such a measure were to move through the House, other needs could hitch a ride.  

"There are other things that do not rise to the same level of emergency but are timely and perhaps would be included in that," she added.  

Democratic efforts to move emergency supplemental appropriations for any of these three issues have elicited cool responses from House and Senate Republicans, leaving President Barack Obama's roughly $1.9 billion request to deal with the Zika outbreak in limbo as the weather begins to warm. The virus is spread by mosquitoes.  

Rogers told the Obama administration that the fastest way to respond to the Zika virus would come through redirecting funds previously dedicated to combating the Ebola virus, a message he and other top Republican appropriators communicated in a Feb. 18 letter. That suggestion triggered objections from Democrats and the administration, who say Ebola continues to need funding.  

Since then, Republicans in the Senate have rejected a Democratic request to include supplemental appropriations for combating prescription opioid and heroin overdose deaths in an authorization bill aimed at bolstering efforts on the drug abuse issue that passed the Senate on March 10.  

On Flint, there has been some movement in the Senate on a potential deal to free up more federal resources to help with the water crisis, which has bipartisan backing. But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has placed a hold on it, citing cost concerns.  

On the wider appropriations front, Rogers said Thursday that the process is moving forward despite uncertainty over the fate of the budget resolution.  

The measure, reported out of committee 20-16 on Wednesday night, won't head to floor consideration until after the spring recess, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced Thursday.  

McCarthy, R-Calif., also said he still expects the House to take up all 12 appropriations bills.  

"We're moving full steam ahead," Rogers said, who announced earlier this week that the fiscal 2017 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill would be the first to have a markup.  

Pelosi also expressed optimism.  

"Mitch McConnell has said they're going to proceed with the appropriations process, budget or not, that’s probably what will happen in the House as well," Pelosi said, referring to the Senate majority leader.  

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who chairs the House Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee, said that the markup will be Wednesday, to allow some members time to return from a congressional trip to Cuba. Normally subcommittee markups occur on Tuesdays, he noted.  

Without subcommittee allocations normally given out after the passage of a budget resolution, Rogers told CQ earlier this week Dent has been given a "notional" subcommittee allocation in preparation for the markup, but that no other subcommittees have been given such allocations.  

Dent declined to tell CQ what his discretionary spending level – or his slice of the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund – would be, come Wednesday.  

"I'll get in big trouble if I do that," he said, smiling.  

On the Senate side, Republican appropriators huddled earlier in the week with McConnell, R-Ky., a senior member of the panel. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to hold its first full committee markup of fiscal 2017 on April 14, also on the Military Construction-VA bill, according to a person familiar with the matter.  

The Senate may not wait for the House to move forward on the floor, potentially using a series of leftover "shells" of House-passed spending bills from fiscal 2016. Using those measures could allow the Senate to send the bills back to the House as amended, and maintain the procedural protections afforded to appropriations bills on the Senate floor.  

The first of the bills could hit the Senate floor shortly after it is marked up.  

But not all appropriators see blue skies ahead.  

House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said that Democratic objections to boosting the base defense budget with $23 billion from the OCO account, as envisioned in the Republican budget resolution, could usher in gridlock.  

"There are so many hurdles to the appropriations process right now, that that is just one of them," Lowey said. "And I do think it’s so important that we can  . . .  that we get regular order and get the process moving, that I would hope that the Republican leadership can get serious and really begin honest, clear negotiations."  

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