A long-dormant fund worth more than half a billion dollars that is at the heart of Democratic opposition over how to pay for the nation's anti-Zika virus efforts, even though using the fund was first recommended by the Obama administration.
Republican aides who worked on the initial deal in June confirmed to the Washington Examiner that it was the Department of Health and Human Services that steered Senate Republicans to a pot of $543 million that had been set aside for health insurance exchanges that were never established in the five U.S. territories.
The money "had just been sitting there," a Republican aide close to the original negotiations told the Examiner. "Our understanding was this was not going to be a terribly controversial offset."
But the House-Senate measure to provide $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika has been stalled in Congress since July and is likely to go nowhere when the Senate holds another vote on the measure Sept. 6.
Senate Democrats are blocking the legislation in part because they, along with their House Democratic counterparts, unanimously oppose the GOP plan to pay for most of the bill, $750 million of it, by using funds from elsewhere in the federal budget.
"Democrats are not going to support setting a precedent where emergency spending has to get offset," Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., told the Examiner. "It would build a very dangerous precedent from the perspective of good government. The reason we have the power to do emergency spending outside budget caps is that it allows us to move more quickly, without having to haggle over offsets for everything."