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Senate Adjourns Without Progress on Zika Funding

Before recessing ahead of the July Fourth recess, the Senate failed to clear a procedural vote to take up the conference agreement on the military construction and Veterans Affairs spending package, which includes a measure for $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus. Sixty votes were needed to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate) on the bill, but the Senate fell eight votes short. In the 52-48 vote, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) backed the deal, while Republican Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted in opposition. Lankford and Lee felt that the bill was not sufficiently offset. The Majority Leader’s “no” vote will allow him to bring the measure back for another vote at a later point in time. Democratic leadership has sent a letter to the Majority Leader and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asking for House/Senate conference negotiations on Zika spending to be reopened. They claim they were not included in the previous round of discussions, which led to the conference report being rejected by the Senate. Although conference reports cannot be amended, McConnell said that the same measure would be reconsidered by the Senate following the July Fourth recess. However, an unchanged measure would still face a presidential veto if it passed the Senate. Democratic opposition to the current bill stems from the provisions used to partially offset the Zika funding – taking money previously allocated for Ebola and other health priorities of the Administration – as well as a measure that would have prevented the money from going to contraceptive services. Congress is scheduled to adjourn on July 15 for party conventions and the August recess, meaning that the funding battle for Zika will likely continue for at least a few more weeks. The White House has said that lawmakers should delay their summer recess if necessary to respond to the Zika outbreak. Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned of the repercussions if Congress fails to act to fund Zika response efforts in the near future. Phase Two vaccine trials could be impacted, and health agencies’ Zika research might need to be scaled back. There are a total of 2,961 Zika cases in the United States, with at least 481 pregnant women affected, according to June 29 data from the CDC.

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