CDC Director Tom Frieden has a background in science and medicine, not politics and messaging. So when he uses the kind of language he repeated yesterday, it's worth appreciating just how franticly Frieden is trying to ring a national alarm. The Huffington Post reported
Dr. Tom Frieden has dealt with a number of epidemics during his seven-year tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control. But the rapidly spreading Zika virus, the terrifying birth defects it causes and Congress' inexplicable foot-dragging on funding anti-Zika efforts has him feeling downright desperate. "Imagine that you're standing by and you see someone drowning, and you have the ability to stop them from drowning, but you can't," Frieden told a packed room of reporters and potential donors at the National Press Club on Thursday. "Now multiply that by 1,000 or 100,000. That's what it feels like to know how to change the course of an epidemic and not be able to do it." [...] "I'm often asked how I feel as CDC director," he said. "In the heat of the moment, you're mostly concerned about getting the job done.... but for me, when faced with emergencies like this, the greatest emotion has been frustration."
When politicians speak this way, it's routine, but when the director of the CDC uses language like this, it's effectively the equivalent of a medical professional running around with his hair on fire.
Frieden was cautious about pointing fingers, but his desperation and frustration is the direct result of Congress' indifference to the Zika threat, which he characterized yesterday as an "extraordinary and unusually urgent" crisis.
It was his CDC that authored the Obama administration's emergency budget request of $1.9 billion -- a request Republicans have decided not to meet
. Instead, the GOP-led Senate approved a $1.1 billion package, while the GOP-led House passed a bill about half as large. Under the current Republican approach, it may be
"well into the summer, or even longer" before Congress approves an inadequate final bill to address the Zika virus.
The Huffington Post piece added, "Frieden said his 'jaw dropped' when he realized how long it would take Congress to move on the issue. 'Three months in an epidemic is an eternity,' he said."
Part of the problem, of course, is the congressional calendar. In fact, after taking the first week in May off, they've also decided to take the last week in May off -- members left town yesterday and won't return to work until June 6.
Senate Republicans have left town for another recess with their yearlong claim that the Senate is "back to work" an increasingly tough sell to voters. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has worked painstakingly to craft an identity that's distinct from the raucous presidential contest -- one built on stability and passage of legislation the Democrats couldn't get through when they controlled the Senate. But the chamber is on pace to work the fewest days in 60 years.
Which means lawmakers keep leaving Capitol Hill without getting important work done -- such as dealing with a looming public-health emergency.
Is it any wonder Tom Frieden is beside himself?