U.S. House Republicans on Wednesday pushed through a $622.1 million bill to control the spread of the Zika virus, setting up challenging negotiations with the Senate, and the White House which has requested a lesser funding.
The vote, which passed the Republican-controlled House 241 to 184, broke mostly along party lines as Democrats lined up in opposition, heeding a White House veto threat and a warning from a top government health official that the bill wouldn’t do enough to respond to the growing threat from Zika.
“It’s just not enough,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said of the House measure. “It doesn’t give Americans the protections they deserve, and with every day of delay it gets harder to do this.” He added that he’s “optimistic that at the end of the day they’re going to do the right thing on Zika.”
The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it was “woefully inadequate.”
The Obama administration requested $1.9 billion three months ago for the fight against Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact and can cause severe birth defects.
The Senate is moving ahead this week with a $1.1 billion plan and agreed with Obama that the money should be added to the budget deficit rather than be “offset” with cuts to other programs.
Many conservative Republicans in the House refuse to approve Zika funds that would add to federal budget deficits, while Democrats and some Senate Republicans favor treating the problem as an emergency that would not have to be financed with spending cuts.
House Republicans argue their bill, when coupled with $589 million the Obama administration already shifted to Zika from unused funds to battle Ebola, would provide enough money through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.
It was unclear how long it might take the Senate and House to work out their differences once they pass their respective bills.
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
Last year, Brazil began detecting an increase in microcephaly, and the virus has been spreading rapidly in the Americas, with new cases now being reported in warm climates in southern U.S. states including Florida.