Zika Complicates USDA Funding

Congress Returns to DC Needing to Fund Government

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Work on ag department funding is likely to be affected by plans to fight the Zika virus. (Photo by theglobalpanorama; CC BY-SA 2.0)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- As Congress comes back to Washington on Tuesday for the last legislative session before the November election, members will be under pressure to fund the government before the fiscal year ends on September 30. However, the Zika virus may complicate the agriculture section of any appropriations bill.

In addition, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats over how long any continuing resolution should last. Some Republicans and conservative lobbyists say it should last until 2017 so there is no spending bill laden with special interest provisions during a lame duck session, while Democrats want it to last no longer than into December.

The House is scheduled to return today, with no votes before 6:30 p.m., and to depart on Friday, Sept. 30 no later than 3 p.m. There are, however, rumors that House members would like to return to the campaign trail earlier.

The Senate is scheduled to return today at 3 p.m., break from Oct. 1-3 for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and return Oct. 4-7 before going into recess until after the election. There are also rumors that the Senate will not return for its three scheduled days in October.

Zika has continued to spread during the August break, increasing the pressure on Congress to provide more money to try to stop it and help the victims. As of last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that more than 2,686 Americans had contracted the virus by international travel, but now 35 cases have been reported of people getting the virus from mosquito bites in Florida.

"Almost all Americans have heard or read about the Zika virus (92%), and one-third (36%) say that passing new funding to deal with the outbreak in the U.S. should be a top priority for Congress, with an additional 40% saying it should be an important but not a top priority," wrote Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, in The Washington Post recently.

"A large majority of all partisans say that new Congressional funding should be at least an important priority for Congress," they wrote.

Frieden and Fauci added that reprogramming money from other accounts to address the Zika virus, as the Obama administration has done in the absence of additional funding from Congress, hurts other public health efforts.

The Zika crisis affects agriculture because some of the money to fight it flows to the Food and Drug Administration, which is funded through the agriculture appropriations bill.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., one of the most outspoken members of the House on Zika, is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, but she also serves on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and formerly chaired it.

In any subcommittee or Appropriations committee or floor action, DeLauro is likely to make sure funding for Zika at least gets a full debate.

In April, DeLauro offered an amendment on the agriculture appropriations bill that would have provided the administration's full $1.9 billion request for emergency funding, including $1.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to Zika, but it did not pass and she continued to raise the issue on other bills.

This summer she praised the FDA for revising blood screening recommendations to call for universal testing of donated blood for the Zika virus in the United States and its territories.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a press call last week that the Republicans "need to get themselves out of the box they put themselves in regarding Zika," Politico reported.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will also have to deal with the conflict between House conservatives who want a funding bill to continue until 2017 and Reid and his Democratic colleagues, who say that they won't vote for a funding bill that goes later than December.

Reid has said if Republicans will not concede on that point, there could be a government shutdown.

"Everyone should be alerted today that we're not going to be doing a long-term CR," Reid said, according to a report in The Hill.

"He and other Democrats expect Hillary Clinton will be president, and they don't want to saddle her with a leftover spending fight during her first 100 days in office, when she would have maximum leverage for passing legislation," The Hill said.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at talk@dtn.com


Jerry Hagstrom