WASHINGTON The Obama administration has no immediate need for funding to combat the Zika virus because money remains unspent from fighting the two-year-long Ebola outbreak, a member of the Republican Senate leadership said on Tuesday.
Lawmakers are debating what resources are needed as Zika spreads in South and Central America and the Caribbean and raises fears of the possibility of birth defects.
But while Democrats joined with the administration to call for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding, Republicans say there is no need for immediate action and intend to have hearings on Capitol Hill, including a meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday.
"We all believe this needs to be dealt with," said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who will chair a hearing about Zika on Thursday.
"There’s still money left that was appropriated for Ebola," Blunt told reporters. "So there’s no immediate shortage of money for the administration to do what they think needs to be done.”
He said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the National Institutes of Health have received additional funding. Most of the money sought by Obama would be spent in the United States on testing, surveillance and response.
A Republican aide said the government had $1.49 billion left in Ebola funding as of Dec. 31, 2015. The Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in December 2013.
The CDC received a $272 million increase for 2016, the aide said.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately available to comment.
Democrats rejected the Republican agenda of hearings and called for action on Obama's plan. "All the lip service in the world isn't going to protect America from the Zika virus," said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat.
The World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1, citing a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.
Brazil is investigating more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly and has identified evidence of Zika infection in 17 of these cases. But much remains unknown about Zika.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Grant McCool)
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