Congress Fails to Fund Zika Response as Partisanship Prevails

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U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said Congress must end its deadlock on funding to combat the Zika virus before lawmakers head out to recess later this summer.

“The good news is we feel fairly confident that we can develop an effective vaccine for Zika,” Obama said after a meeting with U.S. health officials in the Oval Office. “The problem is right now that money is stuck in Congress.”

Obama met with the heads of the Health and Human Services Department, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the nation’s response to the mosquito-borne virus.

Earlier last week, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican proposal to provide $1.1 billion in funding to combat Zika. Democrats and the White House said the plan fell short of Obama’s $1.9 billion funding request and included measures that would take funds from other important health initiatives, such as Planned Parenthood.

“We have not seen the House (of Representatives) and Senate come together in a sensible way to put forward the dollars that we have requested to get the job done,” Obama said. “I expect Congress to get this funding done before they adjourn, as part of their basic responsibility.”

U.S. lawmakers typically go on recess in August to go campaign for re-election in their home districts.

Following the deadlock, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle accused each other of playing politics with the health crisis. Zika has caused concern throughout the Americas due to an alarming rise in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly and other severe fetal brain abnormalities linked to the virus reported in Brazil, the country hardest hit by the outbreak.

Infants with microcephaly tend to have abnormally small heads and may experience potentially disabling developmental problems. While Obama said there have not been any cases reported of local transmission of the virus in the continental United States, he said the nation is home to mosquitoes that carry the virus.

“It is absolutely critical for the United States government, working in concert with other governments in the hemisphere, to be pushing hard right now to get this situation under control,” Obama said.

As of June 23, there have been seven babies born in the United States with microcephaly or other Zika-related birth defects such as serious brain abnormalities, and five lost pregnancies from either miscarriage, stillbirth or termination.

Steve’s Take: Alas, Congress. Once again teaching the world how to govern completely ineffectively and, sadly, without any apparent regard for the welfare of its citizens.

Last week, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican proposal to provide $1.1 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus. Why? Because Republicans included the usual poison pill provisions in the measure including restrictions on Planned Parenthood funding and cuts to Obamacare.

Although mind-numbing, it actually strikes me that our current congressional representatives seem to believe they can simply post signs at our international borders ordering the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus not to cross into the United States.

Or just will them from entering. Meanwhile, since it’s been established that Zika can be transmitted by sexual contact and can live for months in semen, an infected male returning from the Caribbean to Milwaukee can transmit the virus to his female partner. It’s already occurred in the U.S.

Thousands of men return to the states every week from countries in which the virus circulates. New York State alone has a quarter of the country’s travel-related cases.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released last week, 72% of Americans said the U.S. should invest more money in combating the spread of the Zika in the country. Another 73% want more spending on research on the virus, which can cause serious birth defects such as abnormally small heads if a pregnant woman is infected.

It’s time to tell our congressional representatives to stop their childish finger-pointing over who is to blame for the failure to approve Zika-related funding. Time to show the world that at least where the health and welfare of our citizens is concerned, we can put politics aside and deal with the serious health threat confronting us.

It’s time for action and not some time after the August recess. Is that asking too much? It’s only our lives at stake.