Congress back at it in Zika, defense tussle
Dems block GOP funding package
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers returning to Washington after a seven-week break picked up right where they left off — feuding about legislation to battle the mosquito-borne Zika virus and deadlocked over the defense budget.
A tightening presidential race and pitched warfare for control of the Senate in November promise to overshadow whatever Congress accomplishes in an election-shortened September session — which, for now, looks like little more than a temporary government-wide spending bill to prevent a shutdown at month’s end, possibly linked to money to battle Zika.
In its first vote Tuesday, Senate Democrats for the third time blocked a $1.1 billion Zika funding package and an accompanying Veterans Affairs spending bill over restrictions on Planned Parenthood. They then voted to prevent the Senate from turning to a $ 576 billion Pentagon spending measure.
“It’s hard to explain why — despite their own calls for funding — Senate Democrats decided to block a bill that could help keep pregnant women and babies safer from Zika,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It’s also hard to explain why — despite the array of terror attacks we’ve seen across the world — Senate Democrats decided to block a bill that could help keep the American people safer from threats.”
Democrats oppose the Zika measure as it bars Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving new money to treat Zika. The legislation also would ease, over the objections of environmentalists, permitting requirements for pesticide spraying to kill the mosquitoes that can spread the virus.
Republicans added those provisions to the measure in June, along with spending cuts to help pay for the Zika bill.
The defense bill, meanwhile, is caught in a battle sparked by a GOP move to use emergency war funds to try to artificially increase the basic Pentagon budget by $16 billion next year. The Obama administration and its Democratic allies oppose the idea, saying that if Republicans want more money for defense, domestic programs will have to receive an equal boost.
The defense battle won’t be resolved until after Election Day, but Tuesday’s vote on Zika should send the warring parties back to the drawing board, and it appears likely that the provision targeting Planned Parenthood — and perhaps the underlying $95 million worth of social services grants — will have to be dropped from the measure.
Meanwhile, a multi-year restoration of the iconic Capitol Dome is nearing completion, and the Rotunda reopened for visitors Tuesday.
Views of the restored rotunda are open to officials and visitors Tuesday at the Capitol.