Policy

White House: GOP Zika Bill 'Woefully Inadequate'

Obama would veto $622M measure, says more is needed

Public health officials warn that mosquitoes could bring the Zika virus, which causes birth defects and neurological disorders, to 30 U.S. states. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House says a $622 million House Republican-crafted Zika emergency spending bill is "woefully inadequate" and months too late to avoid a national crisis, press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.  

Earnest's blunt assessment came shortly after the Obama administration threatened to veto the House measure .  

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a $1.1 billion emergency spending version negotiated by Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. But that measure is much larger than the version House Republicans rolled out Monday, making the outcome of a possible conference committee difficult to predict.  

[Related: How Zika Could Bite the GOP] White House officials have stopped short of fully embracing the Senate bill, but Earnest said “fortunately” it was poised to pass that chamber soon.  

Earnest criticized the House Republicans' Zika bill because it proposes offsets from anti-Ebola programs. Those funds should remain in existing accounts, he said, because Congress has recently struggled to quickly address public health crises and pass spending bills.  

[Related: Finger Pointing Over Zika Money Sets White House Against Ryan] The House GOP proposal of $622 million to counter Zika would be “on top of the $589 million that has already been reprogrammed at our urging for [fiscal] 2016,” a spokesman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said in a statement on Monday. “In total, this would mean $1.2 billion of resources directed to fight Zika.”  

But Earnest has said several times that such an amount would fall short of what “public health officials” say is needed.  

[Related: Zika Funding Compromise Proves Elusive So Far] The House GOP bill's use of offsets could prove troublesome as negotiations begin about a final version. One reason is because White House officials worry lawmakers will get “bogged down” in another partisan fight over what federal cuts to include, Earnest said.  

Also on Tuesday, the White House’s chief spokesman urged senators in both parties to support a $1.9 billion version of a Zika supplemental ; but that measure failed, 50-47, to pass a procedural hurdle.  

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