Divisive Governance, Ongoing Congressional Gridlock Delays Zika Prevention Funding
By Dr. James Palermo // September 8, 2016
partisan excuses politicize critical public health issue
ABOVE VIDEO: In the wake of ongoing local transmission of the Zika virus in South Florida, CBS Miami reports on Congressional gridlock blocking critical funding for Zika virus research, prevention and treatment.
Divisive governance, which has characterized the U.S. legislature for several years, continues to obstruct any constructive legislation for much-needed Zika research/prevention funding.
A divided Senate on Tuesday again rejected a funding bill ear-marked to fight the dreaded Zika virus, a mosquito-borne and sexually transmittable disease that can cause serious birth defects if contracted by pregnant women.
In all 50 U.S. States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 35 cases have been locally acquired, while 2,686 people acquired Zika while traveling outside the country. Zika in U.S. Territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands) includes 14,059 locally acquired cases and 51 travel-associated cases.
The 52–46 procedural vote marks the third time the Senate has rejected the Republican-led measure, which Democrats oppose over a number of controversial GOP amendments to the funding bill, including one to deny new federal funding for Planned Parenthood contraception programs, one to allow flying the Confederate flag at federal cemeteries, and another to curb Obama administration clean water regulations. It needs 60 votes to move forward and end debate on a conference report with the House on the issue.
In May, the Senate passed a $1.1 billion bill, but Republicans in the House attached partisan measures, such as the Planned Parenthood restriction, before voting on it and sending it back to the Senate in June.
Yesterday, Democrats nearly unanimously voted to block that $1.1 billion funding bill, which was approved by House Republicans in June.
Are you confused, yet? Here are more legislative machinations to ponder.
The Zika funding bill was attached to next year’s spending bill for military construction and veterans affairs, typically one of the least controversial spending bills in either chamber.
Instead of negotiating a deal behind the scenes during the lengthy summer recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada returned to work yesterday afternoon and immediately began blaming one another again for putting the health of Americans at risk.
Speaking on the floor Tuesday afternoon, McConnell argued that Democrats had “filibustered” the funding for both Zika and veterans.
Minutes later, Reid lambasted the GOP for adding in language targeting Planned Parenthood, along with other partisan measures that he described as “strange, weird stuff.”
McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have both vowed to appropriate funds for Zika by the end of September, and Republican Senate leaders acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that the Zika funding will likely be wrapped into the stopgap spending bill, known as the continuing resolution.
With local transmission of the Zika virus a growing concern in Florida, and federal agencies about to exhaust their anti-Zika resources even as the total number of cases in Florida has climbed past 700, including 80 involving pregnant women, legislators from the Sunshine State are facing the most intense pressure to get something done.
“Let’s stop this monkey business,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “Let’s stop these political games. Let’s stop these political riders. Let’s do what the Senate did three months ago when it passed – bipartisan by 69 votes – $ 1.1 billion in emergency funding, and send it down to the House and tell the House to stop playing these games.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Senate GOP’s top advocate for Zika funding, is endorsing a plan to save the much-disputed public health package by wrapping it into the stopgap spending bill that’s due in Congress by Sept. 30.
In an interview with The Hill shortly after the Senate failed for the third time to advance the Zika funding package, Rubio, who is up for re-election in November, said, “The easiest way to get this paid for is to make it part of whatever we use to keep the government open for the rest of the year.”
If the Zika package goes into the government spending bill, Republicans would have no choice but to eliminate the controversial provisions, such as language targeting Planned Parenthood. Democrats would surely block the bill and accuse Republicans of trying to shut down the government if those provisions were not struck.
Prefacing his comments by adding that he believes Democrats are exaggerating the impact of the Planned Parenthood provision, Rubio also said, “My interest is getting the funding, so if that’s (striking the Planned Parenthood provision) the fastest way to get the funding, I support it.”
It remains to be seen whether or not House Republicans will support compromise of the bill. We can only hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle will put aside their partisan excuses, stop politicizing this critical public health issue and break the deadlock on providing much-needed Zika funding.