CAPITOL HILL —
U.S. President Barack Obama says his top priority working with Congress is to make sure members pass a spending bill by the end of this month to keep the federal government open.
The other thing he says he believes Congress will accomplish before leaving town soon for the November elections is to adequately fund efforts to deal with the widening outbreak of the Zika virus. Obama said Congress urgently needs to approve additional funds to develop diagnostic tools and vaccines that will solve the Zika problem for good.
The president met with the four top congressional leaders in the Oval Office at the White House Monday, telling reporters afterwards: “Even though I know that we’re in the midst of a political season and everybody is thinking about elections, there’s still business to be done, and I was encouraged by some of the constructive work that’s being done right now.”
Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi traveled to the White House to meet with the president, but avoided reporters after the meeting.
An aide to Republican Speaker Ryan put out this statement: “The leaders discussed their desire to reach a speedy resolution on a short-term spending bill, including funding for the Zika virus. The speaker talked about his desire to get the appropriations process working, and told the leaders he objected to doing an omnibus spending bill later in the year. He also talked about the importance of taking care of our military through the appropriations process. In addition, the leaders discussed other remaining priorities including legislation on mental health, criminal justice reform and medical research.”
Ahead of the meeting, McConnell said important progress has been made towards a short-term government funding bill and funding to fight Zika. McConnell indicated he would like to get those two bills done and to have the Senate adjourn so that senators up for re-election can got back to their home states and campaign.
Short-term Funding Bill
But House Republicans are indicating they will not support a short-term funding bill.
The White House has been asking Congress for additional funding to fight Zika since February.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Republicans in Congress have used the crucial Zika funding bill for political purposes, by attaching provisions to the bill to stop admitting Syrian refugees or to stop funding Planned Parenthood, women’s reproductive health clinics most Democrats support.
Democrats in the Senate have blocked a House passed bill with $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus three times because they oppose a provision that would block funding for Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. The fight over attaching unrelated provisions, called riders, to the government funding bill and the Zika funding bill could set the stage for another high stakes showdown on Capitol Hill.