House GOP invokes Zika to pass bill relaxing pesticide rules

Republicans controlling the House are invoking the threat of the Zika virus in passing a bill to exempt pesticide spraying from Clean Water Act permitting requirements.

Supporters say the permits are duplicative since pesticides are generally regulated by a different environmental law.

"Unfortunately, a duplicative and unnecessary permitting regulation is making it more difficult for cities, municipalities, and mosquito control districts to spray for mosquitoes," said bill sponsor Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio. "Time and money that should be spent on eradicating mosquitoes will be spent on bureaucratic paperwork instead."

The legislation passed by a 258-156 vote. It started out as the "Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act" but has since morphed into the "Zika Vector Control Act."

"The Zika bill is not a Zika bill at all, it is a pesticide bill," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Most Democrats and the Obama White House oppose the legislation, calling it an attack on environmental laws and are angry that Republicans are claiming it is needed to fight the mosquitoes that can transmit Zika.

"In fact, most mosquito control districts and federal and state agencies already have authority ... to apply mosquitocides as needed to respond to Zika virus concerns and do not require any additional authorization," said a White House policy statement. But while the White House said it "strongly opposes" the measure, it stopped short of threatening a veto.

Democrats say Republicans have been far too slow to act on President Barack Obama's $1.9 billion request to battle Zika, which is linked to severe birth defects. Negotiations on separate House and Senate bills providing emergency Zika funding are just getting underway and aren't expected to finish before a Memorial Day deadline requested by the White House.