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Democrats Push GOP to Fund Zika Virus Fight

WASHINGTON (CN) - Democrats in the House and Senate on Wednesday called on Republicans to work with them to fund the fight against the Zika virus, and predicted dire consequences if Congress doesn't let the money flow soon.

"Months from now, when the results of our inaction become apparent, we will ask ourselves why did we delay, why did we wait," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "We can stop this crisis before it gets worse, but we have to act now. It is the responsible and it is the moral thing to do."

President Barack Obama asked Congress in February for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus, which has been linked to microcephaly — a birth defect that causes abnormally small heads, developmental delays and even death in infants.

The virus is spread through mosquito bites and sexual contact, and more than 900 people have been infected in the United States and its territories so far. While most people do not notice the symptoms of the virus, the World Health Organization has warned women who are pregnant to avoid traveling to areas with confirmed Zika outbreaks.

Earlier this month the Obama administration agreed to take more than $500 million in leftover cash from the emergency fund set aside to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and shift it to the Zika battle, but cautioned the move was only a temporary stopgap.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Senate Republicans were close to a deal with Democrats on another band aid that would cover part of Obama's request, but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, insisted at the press conference that he hadn't seen such a proposal.

"Let them bring something forward," Reid said. "This has been talk, as Sen. [Patty] Murray just mentioned, we haven't heard anything from them for a week. I've never seen a paper with anything on it. It's their responsibility to come forward with something and is imperative it be done now."

Murray later confirmed that she has not heard from Republicans looking to reach a Zika deal in a week, and called the administration's initial call for money a "strong proposal."

Reid also pushed back against Republican calls to offset the nearly $2 billion request with cuts to other areas, saying they are looking for cuts in too many places already.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, joined Reed's calls for Congress to delay next week's scheduled recess until after lawmakers can strike a deal on the emergency funding deal.

Democrats laid out the consequences for not giving money to agencies for mosquito abatement, research for a vaccine and aid to foreign countries dealing with outbreaks.

"The mosquitoes are coming," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, said. "The mosquitoes are already here. You can't build a fence to keep them out. And the mosquitoes won't pay for it."

The Democrats called the Zika outbreak a clear emergency, and accused Republicans of holding budgetary priorities over the health of people in areas where Zika could spread as mosquito populations explode with the coming warm weather.

"Mosquitoes don't care about the budget process," Mikulski said. "Mosquitoes ready to sting and infect don't care that we don't have a budget agreement; they're here. And we need to make sure we respond according to what we know that's going to happen."

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