Congress back at it in Zika, de­fense tus­sle

Dems block GOP funding pack­age

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By An­drew Tay­lor

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.

MARK WIL­SON/GETTY

Views of the re­stored ro­tunda are open to of­fi­cials and visi­tors Tues­day at the Capi­tol.

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