An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is seen in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia, Feb. 2, 2016.
Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

Republicans ready to ignore the Zika threat until the fall

This isn’t a normal week on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are getting ready to take an unusually long summer break – they’ll wrap up this week and won’t return to work until Sept. 6 – which generally leads to a flurry of legislative activity before lawmakers leave town.
 
But this Republican-led Congress isn’t exactly a model for constructive productivity, and it’s likely members will head home without tackling some key issues on the nation’s to-do list. Politico reported yesterday, for example, on the GOP’s refusal to budge on the federal response to the Zika virus threat.
Senate Democrats are making a last-ditch effort to resuscitate a measure providing funding to combat the Zika virus, but Republicans have already panned their offer – escalating the partisan blame game as Congress prepares to leave for a summer recess without finishing a Zika bill.
 
In a pitch to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for striking several provisions in the Zika measure loathed by Democrats.
It’s a pretty straightforward plan Senate Dems are proposing: if both parties are roughly in agreement on the amount of money that needs to be invested, the bill can pass the chamber if Republicans would simply agree to remove the poison-pill provisions – blocking Planned Parenthood funding, taking funds from efforts to combat the Ebola virus, and cutting the Affordable Care Act – that Democrats can’t accept.
 
But the Republicans continue to refuse, making the current bill – a compromise Senate Republicans struck with House Republicans – a take-it-or-leave-it offer: either Democrats play along with the GOP’s culture-war priorities, or there will be no federal response to the Zika threat.
 
The Obama administration, meanwhile, which sent Congress an emergency funding request back in February, reminded lawmakers yesterday that political gridlock “could delay research and development of a vaccine to protect against Zika and tests to detect it.”
 
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told ABC News yesterday, “We getting to the point where both the CDC and the NIH are actually running out of money, and we have important work to do.”
 
President Obama recently argued that Congress should delay its nearly two-month-long break until after a Zika bill passes, but Republican leaders show no interest in doing that.
 
USA Today had a related report noting that the Zika virus isn’t the only issue this Congress is prepared to neglect before taking a summer break.
Congress is poised to adjourn this week for a seven-week summer recess without passing legislation to fight the Zika virus, block suspected terrorists from buying guns, or even keep the government open past September.
 
The mass shooting at the Orlando gay nightclub in June and the growing public health threat of Zika have not been enough to overcome the partisan stalemate that has derailed most major legislation in Congress this year. In the House, reaching consensus on contentious issues such as gun control has been complicated even more by infighting among members of the Republican majority.
This is a problem that remains on the horizon, but just so you’re aware of it, current funding for the federal government expires on Oct. 1. When legislators eventually return from their summer break, they won’t have that much time to pass spending bills to prevent a pre-election shutdown.
 
It’s quite a Congress, isn’t it?
 
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece, and her work is unrelated to the Zika response.
 
 
 

House Republicans, public health, Senate Republicans and Zika Virus

Republicans ready to ignore the Zika threat until the fall