WASHINGTON (UPI) — President Barack Obama isn’t satisfied with the money proposals offered by Congress this week to fight the spread of the Zika epidemic, asking lawmakers Friday to give him the full amount he requested — $1.9 billion.
Obama made the remarks in the Oval Office of the White House after the Senate approved $1.1 billion for the fight and the House $622 million. Both proposals are pretty far short of the nearly $2 billion the president requested a week ago.
Friday, after speaking with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, CDC Director Thomas Frieden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Tony Fauci, Obama provided an update of the situation.
“What we’ve seen is a little over 500 cases of Zika in the continental United States, and they all appear to be travel related,” Obama said. “A more significant, immediate concern is Puerto Rico, where we know that there are over 800 cases that have been diagnosed.”
“We’ve got a plan over the next several months to begin developing a vaccine and to continually improve our diagnostic tests,” he continued. “All of this work costs money. And we have put forward a package that costs $1.9 billion in emergency funding … And 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 acknowledged the money proposed by both houses of Congress, but said it’s not good enough — particularly the House version, which takes much of the $622 million from other government programs, including one to fight Ebola.
“All that the House has done is said, ‘you can rob Peter to pay Paul,'” Obama said. “The notion that we would stop monitoring as effectively and dealing with Ebola in order to deal with Zika doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Federal health agencies have said they are desperate for emergency funding to fight Zika, which can cause birth defects and microcephaly — a condition that stunts development of a fetus’ head.
“We’ve got to get moving,” Obama said. “Bottom line is, Congress needs to get me a bill.”
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