Republicans Resist Calls to Approve Zika Funding

PHOTO: An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is photographed on human skin in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) on Jan. 25, 2016, in Cali, Colombia. PlayLuis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images
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Top Republicans reviewing the Obama administration’s request for $1.9 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus say they need more answers from the administration before signing off on the measure.

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“We're working with them on it to figure out the exact right amount of money, how's it going to be spent, and I don't think in the end there's going to be any opposition to addressing what we think is going to be a fairly significant public health crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today.

McConnell did not respond when asked if Congress would approve Zika funding before the summer recess in July, but congressional leaders want to move quickly. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and brains.

“That is why we pushed the money that was already in the pipeline out the door as fast as possible for Zika,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a news conference.

Republicans insist the administration hasn't answered all their budget questions about how the nearly $2 billion will be spent over the next few years. Democrats say they’ve provided enough information for appropriators to clear additional funding.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, told ABC News that Republicans want to make sure the resources given are used wisely.

“I think that there's a tendency some times to frankly shoot from the hip on this stuff and I think we understand the importance of responding quickly," he said.

He also suggested that the administration could move additional existing funds toward the Zika effort more quickly, which top health officials are reluctant to do.

Democrats have continued to apply pressure on Republicans to act on Obama's request for funding.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, argued that Congress needs to move quickly on Zika funding.

"This Congress cannot bury its head in the sand and hope that Zika goes away because it will not," she said. "We can invest in stopping it, or we can let people in our country become infected and suffer."

On Monday, more than 40 Senate Democrats signed a letter to McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran calling for a vote on funding to fight the virus. On Tuesday, House Democratic appropriators tried for the second time to add Obama's funding request to a spending bill as an amendment, but were blocked by Republicans.

Top House Democrats are planning a news conference tomorrow to call for GOP action on Zika funding.

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