WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) -- Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday proposed using more than $620 million that was earmarked for other government uses to fight the emerging Zika threat instead.
The House is expected this week to vote on the measure, which was proposed in response to the White House's plan to dedicate vast monies to the ongoing Zika epidemic. The House Appropriations Committee's proposal would cover nearly a third of the estimated $1.9 billion needed to effectively combat the virus.
"Given the severity of the Zika crisis and the global health threat, we cannot afford to wait on the Administration any longer," HAC chair Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement Monday. "We have made our own funding determinations, using what information is available and through discussions with federal agencies, to craft a proposal to fight the spread of this damaging disease."
Rogers and other Republicans said they had not acted earlier because they were waiting to hear from the Obama administration about how the money will be spent.
House Republicans had previously indicated that funding the Zika fight could wait until next year, but Democrats leveled pressure on their colleagues to act more quickly.
Some Democratic lawmakers have said the plan is inadequate and not urgent enough, but analysts say it's possible they could support the GOP plan.
"The funding level is less than one-third of the amount of the President's emergency request, and further depletes the ability of the U.S. to respond to the ongoing global threat of Ebola," Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, said. "The growing threat of Zika demands passage of the President's full $1.9 billion supplemental now, not a woefully inadequate proposal tied to an appropriations bill that is six months away from the President's desk."
More than half of the $622.1 million would come from unused funding that was earmarked for the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Two-thirds of that amount would be given to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($170M) and National Institutes of Health ($230M) to fund "pre-clinical and clinical development of vaccines to stop the spread of infection and prevent future outbreaks."
Potential vaccines for the virus are already in development, officials say.
An additional $103 million would go to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and $119 million to the U.S. Department of State and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
"This funding is critical to stop the spread of Zika, and to protect our most vulnerable people both here at home and abroad," Rogers added. "Every child deserves the chance at a full and healthy life, and every mother deserves to see her child thrive. This measure will help make sure this happens."
The money would be available to federal agencies over the final five months of fiscal year 2016. The bill's language makes it clear that the money would be given out with substantial oversight and "tight controls."
"The bill includes strong oversight measures to ensure these funds are used to fight the Zika virus, and not for other purposes," Rogers' office stated in a news release.
Every penny of the $622 million is already paid for, the committee said -- $352.1 in excess Ebola funds and $270 million in unused administrative funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the Senate, Republicans are pledging nearly twice the amount -- $1.1 billion -- in separate legislation. Monday, minority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized that measure and called it "reckless."
The main concern for Zika, health officials have said, is that it may contribute to microcephaly -- a brain ailment that can be passed to a newborn from an infected mother. Last month, the CDC said enough scientific evidence exists to conclude a link between the two.
Experts believe mosquitoes are the main source of Zika transmission, but sexual activity is another potential method addressed in recent weeks.