Congressional Dems, Obama Plead for Bipartisan Zika Funding

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Democratic members of Congress and White House officials said the country is beyond a “day late and a dollar short” on allocating funds to combat the Zika virus in a White House conference call urging Congressional action on Thursday.

“We are 4 months and 1.9 billion dollars short,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer has been a consistent voice calling on his Congressional colleagues to pass funding on the virus.

And as members to prepare to pack up for summer recess next week, he’s among many stoking efforts on funding. In February, President Obama sent a funding request to Congress that he hoped would allow state and federal officials to get ahead of the spread of Zika, which has been linked to developmental defects in infants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some 320 pregnant women in the U.S. and 279 pregnant women in U.S. territories have been infected with the virus; seven infants have been born with developmental disorders linked to the virus. In all, over 3,000 cases of the virus have been reported in the U.S. and its territories.

Legislative action, however, has stalled. House Republicans voted on a controversial Zika funding package amidst a Democratic sit-in over gun control the week prior. That $1.1 billion funding proposal was later blocked in the Senate because of the inclusion of “poison pills” on environmental regulations, Obamacare, and contraceptives.

“This is how the Zika crisis has been treated,” Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Thursday, according to Time. “As a matter of partisan politics.” The Florida Democrat said 11 additional people were diagnosed with the Zika virus in his home state, bringing the total number of cases to 263.

Amid the Congressional stalemate–during which both sides have accused each other of political posturing–the White House has some $600 million from other health crises to fund the Zika response. During the call on Thursday, CDC Director Tom Frieden said the administration had already moved around whatever funds it could to cover the crisis until more money is provided.

A White House official said the president has also been calling congressional leaders urging action on funding, calls that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest termed “intensely frustrating” during Wednesday’s press conference.

“Our public health professionals have been blunt about what resources they need to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus, and Republicans, for some reason, haven’t gotten the message,” Earnest said, noting that by contrast, Republican governors and mayors have been on the front lines of the crisis.

Steve’s Take: Crisis? What crisis? So what if the World Health Organization has said repeatedly that the Zika virus is a global medical emergency? So, another week passes on Capitol Hill where our representatives are content to play political football with the Zika funding measure while the mosquitoes that carry the virus move inexorably into the United States.

Although there is strong scientific consensus that Zika is a cause of the birth defect microcephaly, or small heads in babies, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder, let’s show the world how deft our federal representatives can be in playing partisan politics.

But, wait a minute; what’s this? French drugmaker Sanofi SA said last week it had struck a research and development deal with the U.S. Army to speed up the development of the vaccine against Zika. Sanofi is the only major drugmaker working on a vaccine.

The tie-up with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) gives Sanofi access to a promising new vaccine, made from inactivated virus, that has already produced impressive results in mice. The vaccine is one of the furthest advanced in development and could be ready for testing on humans in October.

A single dose of the WRAIR’s vaccine was shown to give 100% protection in mice (pdf), according to a study published in Nature the previous week, raising hopes it will also work in humans.

The difference between what President Obama is requesting to fight Zika and what the GOP is offering amounts to $800 million–that’s just 0.13% of our fiscal 2016 defense budget, not including spending for veterans’ benefits. Leave it to the U.S. Army and a foreign country to actually do something in this fight to protect its citizens while Congress actually does nothing but posture and finger point.

After all, what’s more important; getting re-elected in November, or seeing past the politics to the human disaster that lies ahead?