Calling it a “full-blown emergency,” Sen. Bill Nelson once again encouraged his colleagues to set aside $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the Zika virus.
“The urgency is now and we ought to do the right thing,” said Nelson, a Florida Democrat. “We have not heard the last of it, and you are going to see it magnified. This is a full-blown emergency.”
But the plea was not enough to convince his Senate colleagues. On Tuesday, the Senate did not approve a proposal by Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio to fund President Barack Obama’s request fully with $1.9 billion to curb the spread of Zika. The amendment needed 60 votes for it to move forward.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Rubio said: “it is public health experts that have said the amount we need $1.9 billion.”
“Take this with the sense of urgency that the public health experts have,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 500 travel-associated cases in the United States. As of May 11, the Centers for Disease control said there were 701 cases of the virus in U.S. territories. That number includes 671 cases in Puerto Rico.
The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday said there were three more cases of Zika in the Florida. All three cases — located in Clay, Orange and Pinellas counties — are travel-related. All told, there have been 116 cases of Zika in the Sunshine State.
Zika is expected to spread more widely during the summer mosquito season, but officials say outbreaks in the U.S. are likely to be limited.
“This is a mosquito-borne infection, and we know mosquito season is here and coming fast. It’s about to get really warm, not just in Florida, but across the country,” said Rubio. “We see something percolating that we don’t know much about. And as a result, we see people facing a public health threat.”
The Senate took up the Nelson-Rubio proposal around 2:30 p.m. Fifty senators voted for the amendment. Senate Democrats blocked a second proposal to cut into the president’s health care law to pay for battling Zika.
The Senate voted for a $1.1 billion measure to combat Zika. The vote sets the stage for the Zika funding to be added to an unrelated spending bill.
In a floor speech Tuesday, Nelson said he knew it was likely the $1.1 billion proposal would pass. However, he continued to caution lawmakers that the funding won’t be enough.
“I think we shouldn’t nickel and dime our response to what the World Health Organization has said and already declared a public health emergency of international concern,” said Nelson. “The urgency is now and we ought to do the right thing.”
The U.S. House has proposed setting aside $622.1 million to fight the spread of the virus. Both Nelson and Rubio have criticized the House proposal, with Nelson saying Tuesday the sum was “nowhere near what we need.”
The House measure is slated for a vote as early as Wednesday. The White House has threatened a veto, saying the House proposal would only fund the Zika battle through Sept. 30.
“In times of public health emergencies, I don’t think we should be delaying action,” said Rubio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.