May 6, 2016

Zika Negotiations Break Down, SFRC Approves State Authorization Bill

1. Zika Negotiations Break Down, But GOP Support for Action is Growing

Last week we seemed close to an agreement on Zika funding in the Senate but negotiations ultimately broke down before the recess. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have been leading negotiations on a rumored $1.1 billion emergency spending bill to combat the virus—some funding of which would be disbursed to the State Department and USAID. Despite the break down, there is increasing Republican support for additional funding including from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and others in the Florida delegation—a hopeful sign that negotiations will resume when lawmakers return to Washington.

In the House, where bipartisan agreement is harder to find, Democrats introduced their own bill to combat the Zika virus at the full amount requested by the Administration—$1.9 billion. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) indicated last month that Committee staff was working on a proposal but awaiting additional information from the Administration. Whether or not to offset the emergency spending with cuts elsewhere in the discretionary budget also continues to be discussed with some conservatives preferring to do so but with both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) strongly opposed, arguing that Zika presents an emergency that should be addressed without undermining other programs.

Ultimately, the path forward for the Zika supplemental remains unclear. Funding could take the shape of an amendment to an appropriations bill or a stand-alone emergency supplemental. As a reminder, the Administration recently reprogrammed approximately $600 million of unobligated Ebola funds to fight Zika.

2. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Prioritizes State Department Authorization

For the second year in a row, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a State Department Authorization bill. Restarting the annual process of authorizing State Department programs has been a high priority for Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN).

The FY17 bill, which the Committee approved with a strong bipartisan majority, focuses on UN peacekeeping, consular programs, diplomatic security, and personnel issues. It does not, however, include funding levels for these programs. Specifically, the bill:

  • Seeks to prevent sexual abuse by UN Peacekeeping personnel and ensure that any U.S. funds not used in peacekeeping missions are returned;
  • Provides greater transparency for the funding of U.S. Consular programs;
  • Strengthens the investigative and police authorities of diplomatic security personnel;
  • Sets out protections for whistleblowers in international organizations and empowers Accountability Review Boards within the State Department; and
  • Authorizes several personnel policies, including a pilot program using contractors to meet personnel needs, improving language training, and setting wage rates for local hires at overseas facilities.

Coincidentally, as the Committee was approving the FY17 authorization bill, the full Senate also passed the FY16 version of the bill, which contains many of the same peacekeeping provisions, as well as provisions aimed at improving security at high threat, high risk posts and increasing efficiency within the State Department. The FY16 bill also emphasizes American support for Japan, India, South Korea, and former Soviet states that are facing Russian aggression.

The path forward for the FY17 authorization bill is unclear with numerous other legislative priorities, including appropriations bill, potentially taking priority on the Senate floor. Notably, the last time a State Department Authorization bill passed both chambers and was signed into law was 2002.