And no I am not talking about the GOPs continued stonewalling on approving Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court…I am talking about the Senate refusing to consider emergency funds requested by the Centers for Disease Control to prepare for the Zika virus this summer.
The U.S. Congress doesn’t look any closer to funding anti-Zika efforts now than it did last week. If anything, lawmakers appear to have taken steps back.
After hours of speeches on Zika from the Senate floor on Thursday, lawmakers adjourned for a week-long recess still fundamentally divided on how best to combat the virus. It was an anticlimactic end to this week’s Zika debate, which was perhaps the most dramatic since the Obama administration sent lawmakers an emergency funding request two months ago. As late as Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was insisting the Senate not break until lawmakers move on Zika. His demands came even as a previously in-progress deal hadn’t materialized, and as Republican lawmakers continued to balk at a bill that would fully finance a White House funding request.
“We shouldn’t be taking 10 days off as a dangerous virus threatens this nation,” Reid said. “And it is threatening us.”
In early February, the Obama administration asked Congress to quickly pass nearly $1.9 billion in emergency funds. It trotted out public-health officials to explain what they knew about the virus’s potential effect in the Americas, and what they needed to develop: a vaccine, top-flight diagnostic tests, rapid-response teams for any Zika clusters that pop up in the United States, among other measures.
So far, Congress hasn’t allocated any new money. The White House grudgingly repurposed about $600 million in Ebola funds for Zika earlier this month, at House Republicans’ urging, but the administration and public-health officials maintain much more is needed. The number of cases in the continental United States and in the territories continues to grow. Scientists have confirmed the virus causes the birth defect microcephaly and the immune disorder Guillain-Barré, and are investigating a link between Zika and brain and spinal-cord infections. Officials are also concerned about the coming warmer months, particularly in warm-weather states. “Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, at a White House briefing two weeks ago.
This would seem like a completely non-partisan bill…and what could be a more important priority for Congress than to protect the health and well-being of Americans. But apparently not!
How the administration’s Zika offensive should be funded, and by how much, has broken down mostly along party lines. Generally speaking, Senate Democrats have supported separate, emergency funding for the virus, while Republicans have not. Some congressional GOP leaders insist on considering the money as part of the ongoing 2017 appropriations process, which would mean taking funds away from other parts of the budget to pay for Zika. In that case, funding would also not be available until October when the new fiscal year begins, months after Congress first received a funding request from the White House.
This is totally beyond belief…something like this should be an automatic approval…period.