WASHINGTON (CN) — Blocking a $1.1 billion funding package meant to fight the Zika virus, Senate Democrats condemned the bill’s offshoot language that limits funding for birth-control providers and rolls back environmental protections.
The Senate passed the $1.1 billion package in May, a compromise between Democrats looking to secure the full $1.9 billion in emergency funding President Barack Obama requested from Congress and Republicans trying to avoid spending that much money to fight Zika.
Though the House passed its own version on May 26, a conference report based on the two chambers’ bills passed last week while Democrats were staging a sit-in on the House floor over gun control.
Democrats in the Senate almost immediately blasted the conference report that came out of that vote, however, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calling it a “disgrace” and a “mockery.”
Reid and other Democrats say the agreement cuts back dollars that could go to Planned Parenthood clinics in Zika-affected areas and rolls back funding for the federal health care law and the Ebola emergency fund to offset the costs of the new spending agreement.
Republicans have hit back at these claims, saying the agreement would give more women access to health services through hospitals and other health centers downplayed the environmental effect of the temporarily suspending rules regulating the use of pesticides.
Democrats successfully blocked the measure Tuesday morning with a 52-48 vote on the larger military construction and veterans affairs bill to which the Zika package is attached.
“I can’t pretend to understand the thinking of some of those people over there,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told reporters after the vote.
The vote, a procedural move called cloture that ends debate on a piece of legislation, needed 60 votes to move forward.
“Democrats are going to have to stew in their own juices and listen to some of their constituents who I know are justifiably concerned about the spread of the virus,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters after the vote. “To me it’s just inexcusable what we saw in them blocking it.”
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that, if spread to a pregnant woman can cause microcephaly, a birth defect that causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads and can cause developmental delays and death.
Just hours before Tuesday’s vote, the Florida Department of Health confirmed the state’s first Zika-related microcephaly case.
Republicans used the vote to slam Democrats for blocking emergency funds to fight a public health crisis, a turnabout that did not sit well with Nelson.
“Well that’s pitiful, that’s not a serious attempt at emergency funding,” Nelson said.
After the vote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved to reconsider the failed vote after the Senate returns from a short break next week.
That vote would be on the same bill that Democrats soundly rejected Tuesday morning. Only one Democrat, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, voted in favor of ending debate on the bill.
Nelson said he was hopeful Republicans would be willing to renegotiate the deal to bring the total closer to Obama’s $1.9 billion request, but that he would accept the original $1.1 billion measure if that was the best Democrats could do.
“We keep pushing,” Nelson said. “And unfortunately the more babies that are born with microcephaly, finally it’s going to get drilled into [Republicans’] hard heads. And then we’ll get the vote.”
But Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told reporters as he left the floor that leadership would move on to other matters after the failed vote on the Zika agreement.
“We had the chance to vote on Zika, so that’s it for now,” Cornyn told reporters.
The senator also shot down the idea of meeting back at the table for another round of talks to get a new funding agreement more palatable to Democrats.
“No, we’re done,” Cornyn said, before walking into his office.
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