Politics

As Zika Risk Escalates, Congress Heads Out

Report says 2 million pregnant women in the U.S. could contract the virus

An Aedes aegypti mosquito, seen through a microscope, which transmits the Zika virus. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As lawmakers leave for their Memorial Day break, a left-leaning think tank says more than 2 million pregnant women — and the children they are carrying — in the United States could be at risk of contracting the Zika virus.  

The Center for American Progress released a new analysis Thursday that estimates “the number of pregnant women potentially at risk in states that are projected to have a moderate or high abundance of the Aedes species mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.”  

More than 491,000 pregnant women in Texas and more than 271,000 in Florida “are potentially at risk of exposure to the Zika virus through November,” the center concluded. Another 100,000 could be at risk in each of these states: Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia; as well as New York City.  

The Obama administration has been pushing lawmakers to pass a $1.9 billion emergency spending bill to combat Zika. GOP lawmakers in the House have rejected that figure, and have instead passed a $622 million version. The Senate passed a $1.1 billion Zika measure.  

Just how fiscally conservative House Republicans and the White House will find common ground remains a big mystery.  

That's because the GOP members want the funds offset and continue to reject the idea of spending nearly $2 billion more. And the administration continues to reject offsetting Zika funds with other federal cuts, and is insisting on its full $1.9 billion.  

[ Opinion: Congress Failing Zika Test ]  

The chambers passed their respective Zika bills last week, giving them one week to at least put together a conference committee to begin talks about a final version. But the House took steps toward a conference only late Wednesday night.  

With both the House and Senate leaving Thursday for a Memorial Day recess, the mosquitoes that carry the birth defect-causing virus will be out in full force as temperatures are finally rising ahead of the holiday considered to be the unofficial start of summer.  

The liberal think tank supports the White House’s $1.9 billion Zika supplemental request, and its findings, which are based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .  

“Many factors will affect the actual prevalence of Zika virus infection, but the only factor within government control is the extent of prevention and response,” said Topher Spiro , vice president for health policy at the center.  

GOP lawmakers point to $589 million in already appropriated funds the Obama administration recently shifted from other programs to its Zika accounts as proof the administration does not need the full $1.9 billion in its initial request.  

[ Zika Virus Funding Met With Caution in Congress ]  

One exception is Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio , who wrote a letter on Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky about the virus’ impact on his state.  

“As you know, there are already 122 confirmed cases of travel-related Zika virus in Florida, and 36 cases of pregnant women who are suspected to have Zika,” Rubio wrote McConnell. “It is my hope that the conferees will keep in mind the countless Floridians, Puerto Ricans, and unborn children who are likely to be impacted by Zika.”  

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.