By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said Congress must end its deadlock on funding to combat the Zika virus before lawmakers head out to recess later this summer.
“The good news is we feel fairly confident that we can develop an effective vaccine for Zika,” Obama said after a meeting with U.S. health officials in the Oval Office. “The problem is right now that money is stuck in Congress.”
Obama met with the heads of the Health and Human Services Department, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the nation’s response to the mosquito-borne virus.
Earlier this week, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican proposal to provide $1.1 billion in funding to combat Zika. Democrats and the White House said the plan fell short of Obama’s $1.9 billion funding request and included measures that would take funds from other important health initiatives.
“We have not seen the House (of Representatives) and Senate come together in a sensible way to put forward the dollars that we have requested to get the job done,” Obama said. “I expect Congress to get this funding done before they adjourn, as part of their basic responsibility.”
U.S. lawmakers typically go on recess in August to go campaign for re-election in their home districts.
Following the deadlock, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have accused each other of playing politics with the health crisis.
Zika has caused concern throughout the Americas due to an alarming rise in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly and other severe fetal brain abnormalities linked to the virus reported in Brazil, the country hardest hit by the outbreak.
Infants with microcephaly tend to have abnormally small heads and may experience potentially disabling developmental problems.
While Obama said there have not been any cases reported of local transmission of the virus in the continental United States, he said the nation is home to mosquitoes that carry the virus.
“It is absolutely critical for the United States government, working in concert with other governments in the hemisphere, to be pushing hard right now to get this situation under control,” Obama said.
As of June 23, there have been seven babies born in the United States with microcephaly or other Zika-related birth defects such as serious brain abnormalities, and five lost pregnancies from either miscarriage, stillbirth or termination.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)