(Bloomberg) — Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked Republicans’ plan to partially fund President Barack Obama’s request for funding to tackle the Zika virus and attach it to other items Democrats dismissed as partisan, setting off a bitter round of sniping ahead of the July 4th recess.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas called Democrats “sore losers” and said they, not Republicans, will pay a political price for blocking the $1.1 billion Zika funding package, which was to be attached to a funding bill for veterans and military construction.
“Here we are in an utterly absurd position, playing political games as this public health crisis mounts here in our country,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said after the vote. “Pregnant women all across America are looking at this with dismay, utter dismay.’’
The measure was blocked on a 52-48 vote, short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance it. Democratic leaders called for a new round of negotiations to produce a bipartisan bill.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats “have been trying for months” to pass President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to fund Zika control efforts. The Republican measure blocked Tuesday would take away funding from birth control, veterans and combating Ebola, he said.
“It is unbelievable that somebody would have the audacity to come to the floor and say it’s Democrats’ fault,” said Reid of Nevada. “A significant amount of American women, especially young women, go to Planned Parenthood,” he said. “The Republicans said you can’t do that.”
Shortly before the vote, the Florida Department of Health announced the first Zika-linked case in the state of a baby born with microcephaly, to a Haitian woman who contracted the virus abroad.
McConnell said the measure was senators’ last chance to provide Zika funding “for weeks” because the chamber will be off next week for the July 4 holiday. But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat, said the package was “a bill designed to fail.”
Democrats say the package is filled with “poison pills,” forcing them to vote against the Republican-written plan.
Among the items Democrats objected to were limits on family-planning services, which Democrats called a “back door” cut to Planned Parenthood; a suspension of Clean Water Act rules on use of some pesticides without EPA approval; funding for veterans that was $500 million below what the Senate passed; and the deletion of a provision sought by Democrats to stop flying the Confederate battle flag at veterans’ cemeteries.
The White House has said Obama would veto the measure, H.R. 2577, if it reached his desk.