WASHINGTON — Summer is in full swing, Fourth of July picnics are around the corner, and there is still a lack of funding to combat the Zika virus after Senate Democrats blocked a $1.1 billion funding package today.
The funding was attached to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which failed to pass the 60-vote cloture threshold by a vote of 52-48. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) was the only Dem to vote in favor of the bill; Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) voted against it.
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) complained that the bill was stuffed with “a goody bag for the fringes of the Republican Party” that Dems could not support.
Further, Reid called it “the most irresponsible legislation I have ever seen in my 34 years in Congress.”
“That says a lot,” he said on the Senate floor. “I can’t think of anything that’s close.”
Citing recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics — including 700 new cases of Zika in U.S. last week, all travel-related, Reid noted, “Four-hundred and eighty-one pregnant women have tested positive for the virus in the United States. Eight pregnancies in the U.S. have resulted in severe birth defects because of Zika. When we talk about severe birth defects, we mean it. Little shrunken heads. Their skulls caved in.”
“I don’t know if Republicans sat in a room and said, ‘Let’s do everything we can just to hit every constituency group the American people like,’ but that’s what they did.”
The bill’s riders knocked funding for Planned Parenthood, cut Obamacare funding, exempted pesticide spraying from the Clean Water Act, and tried to reverse the May House vote to ban Confederate flags at VA cemeteries.
“This conference report is disgraceful,” Reid said. “It’s shameful to use a real-life public health crisis to push the radical Republican agenda.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said “Democrats have tried to claim they weren’t involved in the negotiations over this legislation, but they were from beginning to end — and the House agreed to the funding level that Democrats supported unanimously.”
“Democrats have tried to trot out the ‘war on women’ playbook, but this legislation actually provides more resources for women’s health services — through hospitals, health departments, community health centers, and other public programs,” McConnell said on the floor. “Democrats have even tried to claim this Zika legislation would endanger clean water protections, but it won’t — it contains a temporary, targeted compromise that will allow experts to actually get at mosquito control, the root cause of Zika, in an effective way while we wait for a vaccine.”
“The agreement before us is a compromise with input from both parties, and it represents the last chance we’ll have to address Zika for weeks… Senate Democrats have already unanimously supported the $1.1 billion in funding to combat the virus. Voting to block this bill now will delay Zika control funding well beyond the White House’s deadlines. There’s no reason Democrats should reverse course now and block funding for Zika control in the midst of mosquito season. There’s no reason they should put partisan politics above the health of pregnant women and babies. And there’s no reason they should block support for our veterans either.”
But Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), who accused Republicans of “putting partisanship ahead of prevention,” said the bill put forward today is “vastly different from the bipartisan compromise that this body passed just last month.”
“Now is not the time to play politics with this critical funding, and I’m disappointed by efforts to politicize our response to this public health emergency,” Carper said in a statement. “We must continue working quickly toward a responsible, bipartisan solution that combats the Zika virus without creating other health and funding crises we’ll be forced to solve down the road.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose state is poised to be hard-hit by Zika and who has been pressing for emergency funding for months, cast “shame on Washington” for failing to pass the Zika funding.
“We’ve been on top of this issue for five months, and it’s a failure of both parties in this town, including the president of the United States, that it’s taken this long to even get to this point. This total Washington leadership failure will have devastating consequences on those Americans already infected with Zika and many more who will become infected in the coming months,” Rubio said.
“I realize this was not a perfect Zika bill, but getting this plan approved now is absolutely better than nothing. We need to get something done here, and we need to do it quickly.”
The senator noted that he got word today of a Zika-infected woman giving birth to a baby with microcephaly in his home state.
“It’s simply unacceptable for us to do nothing,” Rubio said.