US Republican lawmakers approve $1.47 billion in funds to fight Zika virus, short of Obama's funding request

White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks about legislation to fund the fight against Zika at a press briefing at the White House, on May 11, 2016.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks about legislation to fund the fight against Zika at a press briefing at the White House, on May 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States House of Representatives on Thursday (June 23) agreed to US$1.1 billion (S$1.47 billion) to fight the Zika virus, short-changing President Barack Obama's US$1.9 billion funding request and angering Democrats by making other cuts to pay for it.

The House approved a funding deal that had been agreed to on Wednesday by Republicans from both the House and Senate. But the Bill's future was uncertain in the Senate, where the Democratic minority has more power to stop legislation, and Democratic leader Harry Reid has declared his opposition.

"It is a responsible plan that assures the administration will continue to have the needed resources to protect the public," Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said. Republicans said the deal included funding for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

But the White House said the allocation fell short.

"This plan from congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus, and steals funding from other health priorities," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement before the House voted.

Mr Earnest said the Republican plan would limit needed birth control services for women seeking to prevent Zika, which can be spread through unprotected sex - "a clear indication they don't take seriously the threat from the Zika virus".

Democrats have been urging Republicans for months to agree to more Zika funding, and the Obama administration has already reprogrammed nearly US$600 million that had been set aside to fight Ebola.

House Democrats said they could not go along with the deal because of US$750 million in budget cuts elsewhere that the Republicans want to use to pay for the Zika spending.

Senate Democrats also voiced displeasure, clouding the outlook for it passing. "A narrowly partisan proposal that cuts off women's access to birth control, shortchanges veterans and rescinds Obamacare funds to cover the cost is not a serious response to the threat from the Zika virus," Mr Reid said.

Still, Mr Ryan urged the Senate to move on the Bill.

According to House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, US$543 million of the US$1.1 billion would come from unspent funds set aside for implementing Obamacare in US territories, while US$107 million would come from unused funds to fight another virus, Ebola. Another US$100 million would come from unused administrative funds at the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.