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Health Team

Aides: Congress makes progress on Zika, spending

Posted September 15

— Republicans are proposing to allow Zika-fighting money for Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics as negotiators try to reach a deal and adjourn Congress for the fall campaign, congressional aides said Thursday.

Democrats are welcoming the move. It would address their chief complaint to a GOP plan intended to fight the virus.

"I don't think that's a major issue right now," said top House Appropriations Committee Democrat Nita Lowey of New York of the Planned Parenthood-related controversy. "I think that will be resolved."

The money would be added to must-pass legislation intended to prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Several issues remain unresolved, and that legislation won't be unveiled until next week, top lawmakers said on Thursday.

The plan by Senate GOP negotiators would allow Zika money in Puerto Rico, where the virus is spreading widely, to be distributed to clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood, a group many Republicans dislike because of the abortion services it provides. The controversy erupted in June after Republicans limited distribution of health grants for Puerto Rico to entities like public health providers and hospitals, a restriction that Republicans acknowledge was aimed at making sure Planned Parenthood was ineligible to receive any of the funding.

Democrats also objected to other GOP-drafted Zika provisions, added by Republicans after bipartisan negotiations broke down, including $750 million in spending cuts that Democrats say should not be a condition for addressing disasters such as Zika. Republicans said Democrats were obstinate in the talks and exaggerated the impact of several GOP provisions, including a cut of $543 million to set up health insurance exchanges in U.S. territories that was never used and is privately considered by Democrats as a painless "offset" to help pay for the Zika measures.

The congressional aides, from both political parties, weren't authorized to publicly discuss the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other sticking points remain, including a GOP demand to keep the spending cuts and a provision to ease rules involving spraying of pesticides to combat mosquitoes that can spread Zika.

The temporary spending bill is the only must-pass item on the Capitol Hill agenda before the November elections. As such, it is being eyed to carry several add-ons, such as aid to help Louisiana recover from last month's disastrous flooding, and a long-shot attempt to allow the Export-Import Bank to approve larger transactions without a quorum of its board.

President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in February to combat Zika, which can cause severe birth defects and other problems. The Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion measure in May.

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