Obama to meet U.S. Congress leaders Monday on spending
By Timothy Gardner and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders to the White House on Monday in an attempt to break deadlocks over government spending plans and funding the fight against the Zika virus.
Congress must pass a temporary spending bill by Sept. 30 or much of the federal government will shut down. With the deadline approaching, Obama is set to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will also be present, White House and congressional officials said on Friday.
Of particular urgency is a program to fight the Zika virus which is running out of money, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden told reporters.
Frieden also noted the virus, which can cause severe birth defects, would pose a threat well into 2017. “Zika is likely to become endemic in this hemisphere,” he told reporters.
Congressional leaders are considering attaching as much as $1.1 billion in Zika spending to a bill to temporarily fund the government during the 2017 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.
Congress has yet to approve individual appropriations bills to fund the government in fiscal 2017. If no spending is approved before the end of September, much of the government would have to shut down.
House Republican leaders are considering a Senate Republican proposal to extend the current government spending levels until Dec. 9, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican, told reporters.
Rogers said he wants the package to include funding to combat Zika, but that this was being negotiated. On Thursday, Pelosi called for a temporary funding measure that would include a full year’s funding to combat Zika.
In February, Obama asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funds to deal with Zika. Since then, both political parties have backed $1.1 billion, but fights over side issues related to abortion have divided them.
One of the biggest controversies involves Democrats’ opposition to Republican-proposed language that Democrats say would prevent Zika funds for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, mainly in Puerto Rico.
A spending bill expiring in December would provide time this autumn for lawmakers to negotiate spending levels for the rest of fiscal 2017.
Some House conservatives oppose the idea, preferring to leave decisions up to the next president and a new Congress that take office in January.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)