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Obama to Congress: Give Me More Money to Fight Zika

Obama rejected two offers of Zika funding from Congress, urging lawmakers to give him the money he asked for as soon as possible to fight the virus.
Image: An employee examines tube with the label 'Zika virus' at Genekam Biotechnology AG in Duisburg
An employee examines a tube with the label 'Zika virus' INA FASSBENDER / Reuters

President Barack Obama on Friday rejected two offers of Zika funding from Congress, urging lawmakers to give him the money he asked for as soon as possible to fight the spread of the virus.

The House and Senate both approved bills this week in the battle against Zika, but the House measure at $622 million falls short of what the federal government says it needs, and pulls the money from other sources. A bipartisan Senate measure worth $1.1 billion offers more, but is still several hundred million dollars short.

Both the House and Senate would still need to work out a compromise.

"So, effectively, there’s no new money there; all that the House has done is said, 'You can rob Peter to pay Paul,'" Obama said.

And for the president, coming up with the cash is taking too long.

"Bottom line is Congress needs to get me a bill," Obama told reporters after getting a Zika briefing from his top health officials Friday.

Related: Zika is Coming and We're Not Ready

"They should not be going off on recess before this is done," he added.

The heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases and other experts have pleaded repeatedly with Congress to approve emergency funding for Zika.

They’re working on a vaccine against the virus, which is causing severe and devastating birth defects and paralyzing nerve conditions. Zika is spreading fast across Latin America, the Caribbean, parts of the South Pacific, and now, back into Africa. The World Health Organization says it is circulating in the island nation of Cabo Verde, off Africa's western coast.

“They should not be going off on recess before this is done.”

Also on Friday, the CDC said it was monitoring 279 pregnant women in the United States and its territories who had been infected.

“We didn’t just choose the $1.9 billion from the top of our heads. This was based on public health assessments of all the work that needs to be done,” Obama said.

Related: Puerto Rico reports First Zika Birth Defect

The women in the continental U.S. have all been infected through travel, but Puerto Rico has an ongoing outbreak and the CDC says local outbreaks can be expected in parts of the U.S. once mosquito season starts up.

"This is not something where we can build a wall to prevent — mosquitoes don't go through Customs," Obama said.

"Mosquitoes don't go through Customs."

"We've got to get moving," he added. "And what essentially NIH and CDC have been doing is taking pots of money from other things — universal flu funds or Ebola funds or other funds — just to get the thing rolling."

Republicans in Congress have accused the administration of sneaking in non-essential projects as part of the request for emergency funding — which doesn’t have to go through normal Congressional approval. And some express concern over running up the federal budget deficit even more.

But Obama said it’s all legitimate research and will aid states to fight the mosquitoes that spread Zika.

“Every child that has something like microcephaly, that may end up costing up to $10 million over the lifetime of that child in terms of that family providing that child the support that they need,” the president added.

"Add that up. It doesn’t take a lot of cases for you to get to $1.9 billion," he said. "Why wouldn't we want to make that investment now?"