Congress Must Act on Zika Money, Obama Says as Infections Grow

  • The CDC says 279 pregnant women in the U.S. are now infected
  • Obama criticizes House bill that would ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’

U.S. lawmakers must act quickly on legislation to finance mosquito eradication and health care for people infected by the Zika virus, President Barack Obama said Friday after meeting with top public health officials at the White House.

“Congress needs to get me a bill,” said Obama. “It needs to get me a bill that has sufficient funds to do the job.”

The Centers for Disease Control said earlier on Friday that the number of pregnant women in the U.S. infected by Zika was three times higher than previously reported, reflecting a change in how the government counts cases. There are now 279 pregnant women in the U.S. with the virus, the CDC said. Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect, and other brain damage in newborns, the agency has found.

Obama, who met with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, and other top health officials on Friday, expressed frustration that Congress has been slow to act on his request for about $1.9 billion to prepare for the virus. Health officials say they expect local transmission of Zika in the continental U.S. by the summer.

“We didn’t just choose $1.9 billion from the top of our heads,” Obama said. The figure was requested by health officials, the White House has said.

Veto Threat

On Thursday, the Senate passed a measure including $1.1 billion in emergency spending to combat the virus. The House has passed a separate bill providing $622 million. The White House has said Obama would veto that legislation because he considers it insufficient, and because it would take money away from efforts to contain the West African Ebola outbreak.

“All that the House has done is say that you can rob Peter to pay Paul,” Obama said. Care for children born with microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected, may cost $10 million each over their lifetimes, he said.

The CDC changed how it counts pregnant women with the disease to include those who show laboratory results consistent with Zika yet don’t show symptoms or pregnancy complications.

“Recently published reports indicate that some pregnant women with laboratory evidence of a recent Zika infection but without symptoms have delivered infants with microcephaly and other serious brain defects,” the CDC said in a statement Friday.

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