close to proposal on Zika funds: Republican committee
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[April 22, 2016]
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group
of senators will soon offer a proposal for more funding to fight a Zika
outbreak spreading rapidly through the Americas, Senate Appropriations
Committee Chairman Thad Cochran said on Thursday.
Democrats and Obama administration officials have urged the
Republican-controlled Congress to grant nearly $1.9 billion in
emergency funds to combat Zika, a virus borne by mosquitoes that can
cause microcephaly, a rare birth defect. But many Republicans have
said they need more information from the administration before
approving the measure.
In a temporary fix, the White House said earlier this month it would
reprogram $589 million of allocated funds, but said this would be
insufficient to deal with the threat.
Cochran, speaking at an appropriations committee meeting, did not
say how much funding would be in the proposal. The Republican said
it would supplement the White House reallocation.
"We recognize that there is an urgency associated with the threat,"
Cochran said. "This proposal will provide new resources ... It is my
expectation that this proposal will be offered to an appropriations
measure on the Senate floor in the near future."
Senator Barbara Mikulski, the senior Democrat on the panel, said
lawmakers must act before July 1. "We are in a race against the
clock, we are in a race with the mosquitoes and right now I would
say that the mosquitoes are winning."
Zika was first detected in Brazil last year and linked to a spike in
the birth defect microcephaly, a condition defined by unusually
small heads that can hamper development, as well as the rare
autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults.
U.S. health officials say local outbreaks are possible in the
continental United States once the weather warms, particularly in
southern states such as Florida. But mosquitoes that carry the virus
could spread further north.
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Cochran said it had been difficult to obtain the information
necessary to thoroughly evaluate the Obama administration's Zika
funding request, a complaint also raised by Republicans in the House
Several senators, including Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Roy
Blunt, are working on the proposal, Cochran said.
Blunt told the panel that he and Murray were largely in agreement
and he looked forward to working on the matter over the next few
days. "I believe we are closing in on a number that is the right
number," he said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, editing by G Crosse)
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