The White House on Thursday promised that President Barack Obama would veto the long-delayed response of the Republican-controlled Congress to the president’s request for fighting the Zika virus, saying it provided too little money and contained too many partisan provisions.
The $1.1 billion measure had already appeared sure to die in the Senate next at the hands of filibustering Democrats backing Obama’s $1.9 billion request and opposing spending cuts that House Republicans added to the measure.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz says if the measure does pass the Senate, Obama will veto it.
“One party doesn’t just huddle in the corner, come up with an ideological bill and then throw up their hands,” Schultz said.
The bleak fate of the compromise worked out by House and Senate Republicans seemed certain, and it was unclear what alternative might emerge, given the hard feelings surrounding the issue and the short timetable ahead.
The Zika plan came out late Wednesday and won approval in the House hours later. That vote came amid a Democratic floor protest of GOP inaction on gun legislation. Republican leaders called the Zika vote abruptly, permitted no debate and immediately adjourned through July 4.
The resulting, un-negotiated GOP measure signified more of the partisanship that has dogged the Zika proposal from the start and raised questions about whether lawmakers will manage to approve any assistance in the short time left before they leave Washington in mid-July for the political conventions.
The measure matches a bipartisan $1.1 billion figure adopted by the Senate last month to fight the virus, which can cause grave birth defects and can be transmitted by mosquitoes and sexual contact.
The House was largely satisfied in their demand to pair Zika aid with about $750 million in offsetting cuts to spending, including $543 million in unused funds from implementation Obamacare and $107 million in cuts to leftover Ebola money.
Democrats objected. They made claims about restrictions the measure would place on Planned Parenthood and complained about a watered-down version of a provision backed by the House that would ease rules on pesticide applications to battle the mosquitoes that can spread Zika.
Obama requested $1.9 billion four months ago to fight the virus. Republicans initially displayed little urgency to respond to the request and forced the administration to devote more than $500 million of unspent Ebola money on Zika.
Democrats also said it was wrong to require spending cuts to pay for a response to a public health crisis while not requiring them for past emergencies such as wildfires, floods and Ebola. Republicans said the cuts were relatively innocuous.
More than 2,200 cases of Zika infection have been reported in the U.S. and its territories. In Puerto Rico, more than 400 pregnant women were at risk of having babies with major deformities such as microcephaly, a condition in which newborns have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.
Steve’s Take: The World Health Organization has called the Zika virus “an extraordinary event” and a “global health emergency.”
It’s quite possible that I’m missing something again, but the difference between what President Obama is requesting to fight Zeka and what the GOP is offering amounts to $800 million. That’s a lot of money. But it’s just 0.13% of our fiscal 2016 defense budget, not including spending for veterans’ benefits.
I don’t know how many heartbreaking pictures our legislators have seen of the Zika-infected babies with shrunken heads and absolutely no future, but this is an incredibly dangerous situation calling for action, not partisan politics and a “head-in-the-sand” mentality.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan has said, “Much has been learned about Zika virus…The response now requires a unique and integrated strategy that places support for women and girls of child-bearing age at its core.”
The entire process of gestation and ensuing childbirth is challenging enough for the mother . . . there currently are no vaccines, specific treatments and rapid diagnostic tests. And Zika is now here in the USA.
Don’t we owe it to our female citizens to fight this war against Zika with whatever it takes to protect them? Can’t we afford to err on the side of some truly miniscule, additional, but crucial funding? I know I’m missing something, so perhaps enlighten me.