After three months of debate between Congress and the White House over emergency funding to fight off the Zika virus, the Senate voted on Tuesday, May 17 to provide $1.1 billion for prevention and treatment programs, but some of Florida's lawmakers claim that's not enough, as the virus has already infected 112 people in Florida.
The Senate's compromise of $1.1 billion falls short of the $1.9 billion the White House desperately seeks. Republican House leaders introduced legislation on Monday, May 16 that would provide $622 million for emergency funding against Zika, $1.3 billion less than federal health officials need. The House is expected to take up its bill this week.
The Senate approved the $1.1 billion legislation with a vote of 68-29; with Florida facing the most Zika infections outside of Puerto Rico, the state's senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) were reluctant when voting for the compromise measure.
Rubio took the Senate floor to plead for the funds which President Obama requested from Congress almost three months ago.
“Let’s not play with fire,” said Rubio. “As of now, there are 112 people in the state of Florida who have been infected. We have many more American citizens who have been infected in Puerto Rico.”
While Rubio tried to persuade the Senate to approve the $1.9 billion, Obama said he would veto an even smaller House appropriations bill providing $622 million in new funding, according to The Charlotte Observer.
The passage of this Senate bill makes it less likely that Congress will send Obama's legislation. Even if the House approves that amount, a conference committee of senators and representatives would have to find a compromise figure, likely between $1.1 billion and the lower amount. Republican lawmakers blocked Obama's measure in fear of increasing the federal debt.
The Zika virus poses the biggest threat to pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant. It has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and incomplete brain development.
Four out of five people infected by Zika have no symptoms. Others who are infected typically have mild symptoms such as fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, lack of energy and pink eye.
The Obama administration is already using $589 million in unspent Ebola funds to fight the Zika virus, but public health officials have said much more is needed to pay for mosquito control, public education programs, vaccine research and healthcare for low-income pregnant women.