Zika: Conservatives should be prepared to hold the line

Jun 20, 2016

Since last week, the House and Senate have been engaged in formal conference committee negotiations over the chambers' respective Zika response and MilCon-VA packages. Reports indicate the the final compromise product could come this week, and the House already has a vote scheduled.

To recap: The House bill (H.R. 5243) contained $622 million in fully-offset fund transfers to combat Zika, while the Senate bill (H.R. 2577) contained $1.1 billion, none of which was offset, and which included their FY17 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The chambers went to conference using H.R. 2577 as the vehicle, and the House, as part of H.Res.751, included the combined text of their Zika response, MilCon-VA bill (H.R. 4974), and the Zika Vector Control Act (H.R. 897). As such, the conference agreement will likely produce compromise legislation covering both Zika and MilCon-VA.

As Heritage wrote back in May, it is clear from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and other sources that the Administration already has more than enough funds to combat Zika through the end of the Fiscal Year. This despite questionable spending by the NIH and CDC on other priorities. As Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pointed out, the NIH has been complaining about lack of funding to combat Ebola, yet they spent $35 million on dubious studies. Even worse, as Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) points out, the Obama Administration diverted money Congress had appropriated for infectious diseases to the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund as part of its Paris Protocol agreement.

Still, Zika is a threat that should be taken seriously, and Congress clearly feels compelled to act to grant the Administration more resources to combat the disease. While the House originally acted in a responsible manner by re-prioritizing and transferring existing funds, it is clear that the Senate is trying to pressure the House into accepting all or most of its irresponsible approach, which Heritage Action key voted against back in May. The House should refuse to give in on its demand that all Zika funding be fully offset. Even a partially offset bill would be irresponsible, especially considering the Administration's misguided funding priorities, its lack of responsiveness to Congress about its funding request, and the fact that funds are already available to be used to combat Zika.

What's worse, if the conference committee comes back with un-offset spending, conservatives in the House and Senate will likely be faced with the having to vote against both the Zika package and funding for MilCon-VA. Such logrolling alone is unseemly and should give conservatives pause on any package coming out of negotiations.

In conclusion: Conservatives should demand that the House stick to its approach of fully offsetting any funding for Zika. They should also oppose efforts to combine emergency Zika funding into a larger package that includes MilCon-VA appropriations.