The Obama administration is diverting nearly $600 million in unused Ebola funding to pay for Zika virus preparation — but they’re not happy about it.
The White House wanted Congress to pass fresh funding for programs aimed at managing the mosquito-borne disease.
But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Zika prep will be funded exactly as it should be.
“Zika poses serious health risks to Americans and deserves a strong response. That is why more than a month ago Congress called on the Obama administration to pull from existing funding to respond to this crisis,” McCarthy said in a statement.
“Currently, there are billions of dollars left over that Congress appropriated to combat Ebola,” he said. “Now that the World Health Organization has announced an end to the Ebola public health emergency, it is time to reprioritize and use these funds for today’s challenges.”
“I support the Obama administration’s decision to transfer this money to combat Zika. By doing this, we can protect against outbreaks without burdening the taxpayers further.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, though, spent a significant chunk of today’s briefing complaining that they only decided to dip into the Ebola well because summer is around the corner — and with it, carrier mosquitoes — and Congress hadn’t passed extra Zika funding.
The administration submitted a request to Congress in February for $1.9 billion in additional funds for vector control, disease detection, testing, vaccine development and support for pregnant women whose unborn children are at risk of birth defects from the virus.
“Congress has done nothing,” Earnest said. “Now, we know that we cannot continue to fund a robust response to this disease without adequate resources, particularly for our partners in state and local government who bear much of the burden of fighting Zika.”
“We have consistently said that an available option was — for the government was to repurpose some existing Ebola funds that would not undermine our fight against that deadly disease,” he added. “But we also told Congress that just using some of the Ebola funds would be insufficient. That should be an indication to you that today’s actions to reprogram $600 million is a temporary fix, and not at all a long-term solution.”
Earnest argued that since, unlike Ebola, we “got advanced warning of a disease,” they should take advantage of “an opportunity to do something about it in advance.”
“We do have an opportunity to prepare for the Zika virus, but Congress has completely abdicated their responsibility to follow through on a proposal that the administration put forward based on the advice of scientific experts. So, the administration is going to do what we can right now to fight this disease by shifting funds temporarily from the fight against Ebola into the fight against Zika,” he continued.
“State and local officials are certainly doing their job right now to try to prepare their communities to fight Zika. Now it’s time for Congress to do its job for a change…. We know that as the weather warms up, as the mosquito population spreads, that this is something that we are going to have to deal with. And I regret — the president regrets that Congress has not fulfilled their responsibilities to take these steps to fight something that we know is coming. But I hope that all of you, as you’re writing those stories, remember this day.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of March 30 there were 312 cases reported. All originated with travel, but the disease can begin to spread locally through mosquito bites and sexual activity.
Of the cases so far, 27 were pregnant women, six were sexually transmitted, and one had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a potential serious complication from a Zika infection.