A health ministry worker fumigates a house to kill mosquitoes during a campaign against dengue and chikungunya and to prevent the entry of Zika virus in...
Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

White House challenges Congress to step up on Zika threat

Updated
A couple of months ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed some understandable concerns about the Zika virus. “We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don’t end up having the kind of feeling across the country that we’re sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola,” the Republican leader said in early February.
 
There were some problems with McConnell’s argument – U.S. officials didn’t “react too late” to Ebola, and if there was a misguided “feeling across the country,” it was probably because Republicans were saying ridiculous things in public – but even putting them aside, it was heartening to see a GOP leader talk about proactive steps towards a potential hazard.
 
But in the months that have followed, McConnell and the Republican Congress haven’t actually taken any steps to “get out in front of” the problem. As Politico noted yesterday, the White House isn’t happy.
White House officials on Wednesday criticized Republican lawmakers for holding up President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion funding request to fight the Zika virus.
 
The administration also announced it shifted about $600 million in unused Ebola funds to combat Zika – a measure that congressional Republicans have called for but one that administration officials previously resisted because they’re still battling the Ebola virus in West Africa.
Not only that, the money intended to address the Ebola threat isn’t enough to cover a robust response to the Zika outbreak, which is why the administration urged Congress to approve a $1.9 billion package.
 
OMB Director Shaun Donovan told reporters yesterday, “We should not play with fire here. We should not risk the outbreak getting out of control before Congress acts.”
 
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest added that congressional Republicans need to determine whether their distaste for Obama “trumps their desire to try to protect pregnant women in their states from this terrible disease.”
 
As for the response from GOP leaders, the Washington Post reported:
Three top House Appropriations Committee Republicans – including the panel’s chairman, Hal Rogers (Ky.) and two key subcommittee chairs, Kay Granger (Tex.) and Tom Cole (Okla.) – said using existing money to fight Zika is the “most immediate and effective” response to the outbreak but did not rule out the possibility of additional funding in the future. “As we move forward, the Appropriations Committee will continue to monitor the changing needs resulting from this unpredictable crisis to assure the resources necessary for the response are available.”
 
Republicans in the House have been more skeptical of the need for additional funds. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) told reporters last month that the government had “plenty of money” available to fight Zika. Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said House Republican are “please the Obama administration now agrees.”
Except, the administration quite obviously does not agree. The White House is raiding one fund, which will need to be replenished, and redirecting those funds, which are insufficient, to deal with another looming public-health problem.
 
In other words, when Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “We need to get out in front of the Zika virus,” he didn’t seem to include congressional Republicans among the “we,” GOP lawmakers want the administration to somehow address the threat with inadequate funds, while Congress does no actual work on the subject.
 
 

public health and Zika Virus

White House challenges Congress to step up on Zika threat

Updated