Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt on Thursday endorsed a Republican proposal to end a months-long stalemate in Congress over legislation to fund the fight against Zika, saying the deal would provide “urgently needed” resources to halt the spread of the virus.
“While this isn’t a perfect bill, it will enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies to continue working toward a vaccine, and to develop new treatments and diagnostics for those who have been infected,” Blunt said in a statement.
Democrats have yet to embrace the bill. They complain that Republicans filed the measure unilaterally without Democratic buy-in.
“The Republicans are refusing to legislate,” said Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. He called on Republicans to bring Democrats a bill that they could support.
The money for Zika is included in a bill offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to keep the federal government open through Dec. 9. The measure also includes money for flood victims in Louisiana, Maryland and West Virginia and funds to address the nation’s opioid epidemic.
It does not allot any money to help residents affected by lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan, something that Democrats insist on.
“It fails to help the people of Flint, Michigan,” said Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland in a speech on the Senate floor. She said Republicans had filed a “Republican-only” bill.
“We Democrats cannot vote for that substitute and urge others to vote against it,” she said.
The latest offer on Zika funding comes seven months after President Obama first requested $1.9 billion from Congress to combat the virus, which can cause devastating birth defects and brain damage in unborn children.
Blunt, who is in a close race for re-election, played a key role earlier this year to draft a compromise bill with Democrats that provided $1.1 billion in emergency funds for Zika research and prevention.
In a concession to Democrats, Thursday’s offer dropped the language preventing Planned Parenthood from using the grant money in Puerto Rico or elsewhere. Instead, the bill reiterates the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.
“I was disappointed that Senate Democrats blocked this critical funding several times over the past three months, delaying a robust response, and it is clear that we must move forward on legislation we can get to the president’s desk,” Blunt said on Thursday.
He said he was urging all of his colleagues to support the measure.
Blunt touted Senate passage of his compromise bill in May, only to see it become mired in partisan bickering as lawmakers and their staffers worked to reconcile the legislation with a version that passed the House of Representatives.
The House version included about $622 million for Zika. Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill was financed by budget cuts to Ebola research, Obamacare and other government programs.
Democrats voted to block the legislation three times since June over concerns about budget cuts, as well as language that would disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving grant money to combat Zika in Puerto Rico, where the virus is widespread.
As the weeks dragged on and a Zika outbreak raised alarm in Florida, Blunt found himself fending off attacks from his Democratic opponent Jason Kander and the Missouri Democratic Party. They accused him of lacking the pull or focus to bring his Zika deal over the finish line.
The new bill, introduced by McConnell in the Senate on Thursday, includes the same $1.1 billion funding level proposed by Blunt and approved by the Senate in May. It includes money for mosquito control, Zika surveillance, and advanced development of treatments and diagnostics and $397 million for vaccine research.
The bill offsets costs with $400 million in cuts from unused funds intended to prevent the spread of Ebola, and to set up Obamacare exchanges in U.S. territories.