WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Wednesday to move ahead with negotiations with the House on a measure to fund the government's fight against the Zika virus.
The 93-2 vote paves the way for potentially tricky talks over how much money to provide to battle Zika and whether to pay for it with cuts elsewhere in the budget as demanded by House GOP conservatives.
The virus can cause grave birth defects and can be spread by mosquitoes native to large swathes of the country.
President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in February. The Senate responded with a bipartisan $1.1 billion measure last month — treated as emergency funds not requiring offsetting spending cuts — and the House followed with a $622 million measure that is "paid for" with cuts to unspent balances from the battle against Ebola and another account.
Democrats have gone on the attack because of delays in approving the money, but Republicans successfully pressured Obama to devote more than $500 million in unspent Ebola funding to carry on the Zika battle until Congress supplies additional funding.
House leaders are insisting on spending cuts to finance the battle as they head into the talks, a demand opposed by Democrats.
But the Zika funding measure is attached to an enormously popular measure funding veterans programs, so Democrats may not have the stomach to block the Zika measure if it contains offsetting spending cuts.