By: Michaela Keller
This past week, the Senate named its conferees on the Zika spending package to join the already-named House conferees, signaling a formal start to negotiations on the differing measures put forth by the House and Senate to combat the Zika virus. Chief among those differences is the funding level that both chambers agree is appropriate to address the virus. As detailed in this post, last month the Senate approved $1.1 billion, while the House approved $622 million to fight Zika, both levels below the Administration’s original request of $1.9 billion.
Apart from the funding levels, another significant difference between the House and Senate passed measures is whether or not the funding is offset. In the Senate passed bill, the funding is considered an emergency appropriation, meaning that it is not tied to any offset, or cuts to other programs. In contrast, the House offsets the full $622 million by repurposing emergency Ebola funding as well administrative funds within HHS. Whether or not to offset any agreed upon funding will certainly be one of the key decisions of the conference committee.
Among other things, the conference committee will also be tasked with determining whether to provide funding until the end of September 2017, as agreed upon in the Senate, or to provide funding until the end of September of this year, as agreed upon in the House. House conferees have stated that they plan to include Zika funding in the yet-to-be-unveiled Labor-Health and Human Services funding bill, which is expected later this month. However, whether that funding will get approved through the regular appropriations process and under what time frame, remains a question that conferees will need to consider.