Senate Strikes $1.1 Billion Bipartisan Deal to Pay for Zika Fight

Image: A military truck carries out fumigation in a neighborhood to stop the breeding of the dengue mosquito in Havana
A military truck carries out fumigation in a neighborhood to stop the breeding of the dengue mosquito in Havana March 1, 2016. ENRIQUE DE LA OSA / Reuters

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By Maggie Fox

The Senate has a bipartisan compromise deal to give President Barack Obama more than half the money he’s asked for to fight the Zika virus, it was announced Thursday.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Washington’s Patty Murray, a Democrat, brokered the deal that would allocate $1.1 billion in emergency funding to help states prepare for Zika’s arrival when mosquito season starts and to fund research into the virus and its effects.

A health worker prepares insecticide before fumigating in a neighborhood in San Juan, January 27, 2016.ALVIN BAEZ / Reuters

The compromise will come in the form of an amendment to a spending bill up for a vote next week.

Two other amendments are also on offer: one that would give Obama his full $1.9 billion request, and one that would offer $1.1 billion, but not as emergency funding.

"I am very glad that Chairman Blunt and I have been able to work together on an emergency funding bill to quickly respond to the Zika threat," Murray said in a statement.

"I continue to urge my colleagues to support the President’s full request, but I am very encouraged that Democrats and Republicans will be able to come together with a strong step forward to help ensure families across the country are prepared to respond to this emergency."

Obama’s been pushing harder and harder for the $1.9 billion, saying Zika is an emergency. Republicans in Congress have balked at giving the administration so much money as emergency funding. It’s a funding stream that gives Congress little control, and many conservatives worry it would end up being used as a slush fund to pay for a variety of public health initiatives without their oversight.

Related: Zika is Scary and We Need Money to Fight It

The Blunt-Murray spending bill still must get approval in the House, where there’s less agreement on the need. Democrats support the spending but Republicans are cautious about allocating so much cash.

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan says he is the only Republican who supports the full $1.9 billion request.

“Florida has one-quarter of all the Zika cases in the country so it’s only right that Florida’s elected officials are taking the lead on this issue,” Buchanan said in a statement.

“But the rest of the country should be aware: summer is coming so Zika will be spreading more quickly. Virus-laden mosquitos aren’t going to wait for us to fix Washington’s inaction.”

The CDC and the National Institutes of Health have scratched up $589 million in funding for now but say it's not nearly enough.

Related: Congress Struggles to Get a Zika Pay Deal

Zika's spreading fast across Central and South America and health officials say there will certainly be cases and probably limited outbreaks in the United States once the weather gets warmer and mosquitoes start to get really active.

Already, travelers have brought more than 400 cases to the U.S. and the virus is spreading in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The virus can spread sexually and health experts say to expect pregnant women to become infected and to worry about birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s vital to find out how many women who are pregnant and who get infected will go on to have babies with a birth defect. There are almost certainly going to be birth defects that don't show up for years, experts say, and studies will be needed to find out what they are and how common they are.

And Zika also can cause paralyzing conditions, including Guillain-Barre syndrome, in adults.