GOP Senator Condemns Obama for Shuffling $500M From Zika to U.N. Climate Fund

June 8, 2016

The Obama administration siphoned $500 million that could have gone toward combating the Zika virus into a United Nations effort aimed at mitigating climate change.

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) wrote in an op-ed published in the Daily Signal that the Senate last year granted Obama the authority to pay for a response to Zika, but his administration chose instead to allocate those funds toward the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund.

Lankford wrote:

Congress last December provided the Obama administration with authority to pull money from bilateral economic assistance to foreign countries. They can use those funds to combat infectious diseases, if the administration believed there is an infectious disease emergency. In the middle of the Zika epidemic, the administration did use their authority to pull money from foreign aid and spend it, but they didn’t use it for Zika. … In March, President Obama gave the United Nations $500 million out of an account under bilateral economic assistance to fund the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund. Congress refused to allocate funding for the U.N. Climate Change Fund last year, so the president used this account designated for international infectious diseases to pay for his priority.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recorded 618 cases of U.S. travel-associated Zika virus as of June 1. The number marks a stark increase since February when 107 cases were recorded.

Government officials have been pressuring the GOP-led Congress to pass the roughly $1.9 million in emergency funding for Zika preparedness that Obama requested in February.

But Lankford said funding that could be reallocated toward combatting Zika already exists despite the $500 million the administration contributed instead toward the U.N.’s climate change efforts.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, and International Assistance Programs have a combined $80 billion in "unobligated" funds. A slice of this, Lankford said, could be redirected toward a response to the Zika epidemic without increasing the national debt.

Obama requested this authority in 2009 to respond to the H1N1 virus, for example.

"Zika is an important international crisis, but every crisis does not demand new ‘emergency funding’ that is all debt," Lankford wrote. "If there is a way to avoid more debt, we should take that option."