Pa.’s U.S. Senate rivals spar over delay on Zika funding

    Katie McGinty (AP photo) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey are sparring over funding to fight the spread of Zika virus. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Katie McGinty (AP photo) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey are sparring over funding to fight the spread of Zika virus. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    A stalemate in Washington over funding for a Zika response plan is the latest point of debate in Pennsylvania’s closely watched Senate race.

    In February, President Obama called for a $1.9 billion package to help tackle the mosquito-borne virus Zika, which can cause birth defects if contracted by pregnant women. But with mosquito season here, Congress still hasn’t approved a plan, and the fight is shaking out largely along party lines.

    “We don’t need Hallmark cards and well wishes from Congress. We need money,” U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty, a Democrat, told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.

    She accused Senate Republicans, including her rival Pat Toomey, of putting politics before public health.

    “This should not be a stretch and it certainly shouldn’t be a political football, but that’s what Pat Toomey has contorted this issue into.”

    Last week, Toomey voted in favor of a bill that allocated $1.1 billion toward fighting the Zika virus, but also included a number of provisions untenable to Democrats.

    “I hope they will reconsider their extreme partisan tactics, do the right thing, and help us pass this bill as soon as possible,” wrote Toomey in a statement after the vote.

    With the two sides publicly refusing to compromise, it is unclear if any spending plan will be approved before Congress breaks for a summer recess.

    Meanwhile, the number of confirmed Zika cases in the U.S. stands at 935, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plus another 1,970 cases in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. More than 30 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive, though all of those cases were contracted during travel to affected areas.

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