Obama meets with Ryan, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid about Zika, government funding

President Obama met Monday afternoon with congressional leaders in the Oval to discuss priorities for the remainder of the legislative session in September. At the top of their agenda is passing a measure that would extend 2016 spending levels for a few months and preventing a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Mr. Obama said that he was “encouraged by some of the constructive work that’s being done.”

“My hope is that by the time Congress adjourns before the election that we we have a way to fund the government and that our Zika funding will be taken care of,” the president said. He also added that “after the election i’m even more hopeful we can get some things done.” 

The president was asked about Hillary Clinton’s health episode Sunday but declined to answer questions from reporters in the room. 

Before heading to the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that Democrats and Republicans are negotiating an agreement to fund the government and that the upper chamber will move soon to consider a continuing resolution (CR) that would extend funding through Dec. 9.

“I expect to move forward this week on a continuing resolution through December 9 at last year’s enacted levels and include funds for Zika control and our veterans,” McConnell said, adding that “a lot of important progress” has been made already.

Even though it’s been more than a month since the first cases of the Zika virus were discovered the in U.S. in which it was contracted through mosquitoes, Congress has not yet passed funding to confront the crisis. President Obama asked lawmakers in February to approve $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but Republicans later proposed a $1.1 billion measure that would also impose limits on funding to Planned Parenthood, which Democrats have opposed.

On Friday, according to the Associated Press, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Thomas Frieden said that “we are now essentially out of money,” and he warned that the country is “about to see a bunch of kids born with microcephaly” in the coming months. The CDC has set up a registry to follow the 584 pregnant women in the U.S. who’ve so far been infected with Zika. At this point, 16 babies have been born in the U.S. with Zika-related birth defects​.  

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Democrats on Capitol Hill are willing to agree to $1.1 billion amount, but as long as it also doesn’t contain ideological riders. Similarly, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday afternoon that the president supports a CR that doesn’t contain those provisions.

As long as Congress keeps the government funded, lawmakers are currently slated to be out of session during October, through the presidential election.

Passage of a CR that expires in early December means that the next fight over government funding would happen in the lame-duck session. At that point, Republicans could try to push for another CR, extending 2016 levels into next year or passing a comprehensive 2017 government funding package.