Top Senate Republican: Zika funding to get floor vote

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A bipartisan measure to partially fund President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion request to combat the Zika virus will soon get a vote, a senior Senate Republican said on Thursday.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said the proposal, still a work in progress, is likely to be attached to an unnamed spending bill on a Senate floor vote.

“This proposal will provide new resources to supplement other funding,” Cochran said. “It’s my expectation that this proposal will be offered to an appropriations measure on the Senate floor in the near future.”

Both Republicans and Democrats on the powerful committee said significant progress has been made toward a compromise to fund research on a vaccine against Zika and efforts to battle its spread.

Obama requested $1.9 billion in February. Republicans controlling Congress responded by pressuring the administration to transfer unspent funding provided in 2014 to battle Ebola. The administration reluctantly transferred almost $600 million in previously appropriated funds to take on Zika, but says more money is still needed.

The Zika virus can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. It is spread by mosquitos and sexual contact and is likely to spread more aggressively as mosquito season looms.

The Senate is taking the lead in developing the Zika funding measure.

“We’re all going to be working jointly to find a way … to get it on a bill that gets to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Sen. Patty Murray. D-Wash., said negotiators are working “to get this done in the most expeditious way as possible.”

But the White House may not be satisfied.

“While we are reassured that there appears to be initial steps to rectifying Congress’s failure to act to date, any proposal that does not provide needed assistance in this fiscal year and does not protect or replenish the funding critical to our ongoing Ebola response will be insufficient to the risks facing the country,” said White House spokesman Peter Boogaard.

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