It should have been the year’s easiest vote. Back in February, the White House sent Congress an emergency budget request, asking for $1.9 billion to address the Zika virus threat. The Republican majority balked, ignoring the issue for months, before eventually working on a watered down alternative.
With the Senate on track to defeat a bill today, the New York Times helps set the stage.
The military construction and veterans’ spending bill forced through by House Republicans with no debate early Thursday morning contains $1.1 billion for Zika preparation and prevention – but it also contains some poison-pill provisions that are likely to drive off any Democratic support, notably one restricting the use of the money by Planned Parenthood.Democrats consider that add-on totally unacceptable, noting that the virus can be transmitted sexually. Other provisions also appeared to be added by House and Senate Republicans, who negotiated the measure on their own, to essentially dare Democrats to oppose the overdue Zika money.
Common sense suggests lawmakers would have listened to the CDC, approved the emergency funds, and moved on – but this is a Republican Congress. After the House and Senate passed competing, inadequate Zika bills, GOP lawmakers reached an agreement among themselves that would block Planned Parenthood funding, take funds from efforts to combat the Ebola virus, and cut the Affordable Care Act.
Not surprisingly, Democrats aren’t prepared to go along with these poison-pill provisions and the White House has said President Obama would veto the Republican bill if it reaches his desk.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last night that Democratic opposition to the far-right House bill is the “most cynical gesture” he’s seen during his Senate career. It’s possible that the Texas Republican is confused about the meaning of “cynical.”
It’s really not that complicated: GOP lawmakers, after blowing off public-health warnings for months, put together a hyper-partisan package they knew Democrats wouldn’t support. The Republican-led House then passed it during a massive sit-in protest over gun policy. Now, with time running out before Congress gives itself another vacation, the Republican-run Senate expects Dems to go along with a shameless partisan gambit, rather than working on a bipartisan solution.
And we’re supposed to believe Democrats are the “cynical” ones in this story.
The real-world result of Republicans’ recklessness is that the GOP-led Congress is failing, once again, to deal with a pressing national need – this time, as Americans approach peak mosquito season – shortly before leaving town for another break.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who’s been begging Congress for months to be more responsible, said in a statement the other day, “[I]t is clear that once again, Republicans have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies. This plan from Congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus and steals funding from other health priorities.”
Unfortunately, all of this is true.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece, and her work is unrelated to the Zika response.