Senate Still At Odds Over Zika Funding With Only 3 Days Left Before Summer Break

Sen. Mitch McConnell says Democrats won't get what they want.
This is how it works, says Mitch McConnell.
This is how it works, says Mitch McConnell.

WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats are trying to get Republicans back to the negotiating table over legislation that provides $1.1 billion to combat the spreading Zika virus, But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn’t budging.

McConnell made clear Tuesday that he wasn’t going to entertain alternatives being floated by Democrats to fund the U.S. government’s response to Zika, which causes birth defects such as microcephaly and other irreversible problems.

While Republicans from both chambers managed to report the larger military and veterans appropriations bill out of conference, the result strayed from what had originally passed in the Senate. Angry Democrats pointed to new partisan riders.

McConnell cited process on Tuesday to tell Democrats again that he won’t bring a new or standalone bill to the floor to address Zika. They will have to accept what came out of conference.   

“I talked with the president and the secretary of health and human services ― I’ve explained to them how the Senate and House works,” McConnell told reporters. “The conference report is not amendable. What Democrats are trying to do will not achieve an outcome.”

But Democrats weren’t giving in. In a last-ditch effort Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached out to McConnell, asking him to separate the Zika funding from the military appropriations bill. Democrats also want to strike provisions that take some money from Obamacare to pay for Zika costs and others that target Planned Parenthood.

“They said no compromise because they have this fixation on Planned Parenthood,” Reid told reporters.

He took to the floor moments later urging Republicans to work with Democrats to pursue a different option.

McConnell said he will bring up the measure agreed to in conference for a vote later this week. Democrats had filibustered it ahead of the July 4th recess. The White House has also said the president would veto it.  

The debate over approving funds to tackle Zika has raged in the Senate for months. Democrats tried multiple times to push through the president’s full $1.9 billion emergency request to battle the virus, which has now infected roughly 2,700 people in the United States and its territories, including nearly 500 pregnant women.

It remains to be seen if any legislation addressing Zika will make it to the president’s desk by the end of the week, when lawmakers plan to head out for a seven-week break.