Senate leaders offer options for Zika response funds

WASHINGTON Three competing plans for providing funds to address a potential Zika virus outbreak in the United States will be presented on the floor of the U.S. Senate, but it was unclear which if any would prevail in the fractured chamber, according to senior Democratic aides.

A Democratic proposal for $1.9 billion in emergency funds, which President Barack Obama requested in February, is one plan that could come up for a vote as early as next week. A second one, crafted by bipartisan senators, would provide $1.1 billion in emergency money. These two options would not require spending cuts elsewhere to cover the Zika costs, aides said.

A third alternative would take money from Obamacare to pay for Zika response funds, but it was unclear how much in funding would be specified, according to aides.

Senate backers of each amendment will try to attach their competing proposals to an unrelated spending bill the Senate is set to debate.

While Democrats want full-funding of Obama’s request with no strings attached, many Republicans think less than $1.9 billion might be more appropriate and they want to pay for any new spending with cuts to other programs.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to be deeply divided over whether, and how, to fund a Zika funding bill, according to aides.

The Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, can cause severe brain abnormalities in babies born of infected mothers, as well as other dangerous infections.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Bernard Orr)

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