Zika Threat Wider Than Originally Thought, White House Says
Republicans hesitant to cut nearly $2 billion check for response
The Zika virus is a threat to more states than first feared, underscoring the need for Congress to approve the Obama administration’s nearly $2 billion funding request, senior health officials said Monday.
But even as officials delivered that new warning, Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office questioned the White House’s approach for combating the virus’ spread at home and abroad.
The virus spread by mosquitos is now believed to affect women throughout their pregnancies rather than during just the first trimester, Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at the White House.
In addition to being linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where an infant’s head is smaller than expected, and one serious autoimmune nervous disorder, officials said there were growing links between the virus and neurological conditions.
The virus has been transmitted in South and Central America, as well as Africa and the Pacific islands, according to the CDC.
So far, authorities have reported nearly 700 cases in the United States and its territories. About half the total cases — those in Puerto Rico — primarily originated locally, while the remainder in the U.S. were transmitted by travelers.
U.S. health officials warned that mosquitos carrying the Zika virus were present in 30 states, not the dozen thought previously.
Officials do not expect a wide scale outbreak in the continental United States, Schuchat said, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a big problem.” The health officials warned they lacked funds to head that off, even after they transferred nearly $600 million to anti-Zika efforts. Most of that money came from the fight against Ebola.
Health agencies need the full amount the Obama administration has asked for: $1.9 billion, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.
Still, he told reporters at the same briefing that he “can’t imagine” Congress won’t eventually approve the money, especially as experts learn more.
On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers remained hesitant to cut a check of nearly $2 billion, especially since the sum would breach spending caps.
“We’re glad the administration has agreed to our request to use existing Ebola funds to address the Zika epidemic,” Doug Andres, a Ryan spokesman, said in an email.
“If additional Zika resources are needed, those funds could and should be addressed through the regular appropriations process,” Andres said.
GOP Appropriations Committee members declared victory this month when the White House decided to shift funds away from programs targeting Ebola, malaria and tuberculosis and toward anti-Zika efforts.
“More than a month ago we called on the administration to use existing funding and legal authorities to provide the most immediate and effective response to the Zika outbreak,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other senior GOP members of that panel said in a statement at the time. “We are pleased to hear today that federal agencies are heeding our call.”
Republicans have yet to take a firm position on whether they believe additional Zika dollars will be needed this fiscal year, between now and the end of September.
“We will look carefully at the details of today’s proposal by the administration to ensure the best and most effective use of these funds, and to provide proper oversight,” Rogers and the other GOP members of his panel said. “As we move forward, the Appropriations Committee will continue to monitor the changing needs resulting from this unpredictable crisis to assure the resources necessary for the response are available.”
Meantime, Schuchat said there could be hundreds of thousands of Zika cases in Puerto Rico alone.
Such outbreaks are another reason Congress should allocate the funds, Schuchat and Fauci said. That’s because the United States is working closely with Caribbean and Latin American countries on countering the disease, they said.