Before Congress broke for its lengthy summer recess, President Obama and public-health officials implored the Republican-run House and Senate to do one thing: approve funding for the fight against the Zika virus. GOP leaders instead played partisan games with the bill and left Capitol Hill without having accomplished anything
to address the threat.
As NBC News reported
yesterday, their negligence carries consequences.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is almost out of money to fight the Zika virus, the agency's director said Tuesday -- just hours before Florida announced three fresh homegrown cases of the infection. Zika has now infected 46 people locally in Florida, presumably spread by mosquitoes. One case is part of an outbreak in Miami Beach and health officials say they're trying to trace the origins of two others. And the CDC, which has been helping Florida track cases and fight mosquitoes, is almost broke.
"Basically, we are out of money and we need Congress to act," CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters yesterday.
But congressional Republicans have chosen not to act, in part because of an instinctive discomfort with new government spending, and in part because some GOP lawmakers are skeptical about the seriousness of the Zika threat itself.
This has left officials like Frieden to raise the volume while ringing the alarm, hoping greater awareness of the problem might prompt Congress to do what's necessary to protect the public. From the NBC News report:
"We are at the point where actions that are taken in the current time will have implications for decades to come," Frieden said. "There are a lot of things that we cannot do for lack of resources." He said CDC is already borrowing from other vital programs. "We have had to take money from areas including emergency preparedness in the United States, Ebola ... immunization programs, HIV, monitoring disease," he said. The CDC took $38 million from Ebola funding and $44 million from emergency response funding.
It's not enough. Unless and until congressional Republicans can overcome their indifference, the circumstances will grow more serious.
In rather blunt terms for a CDC director, Frieden added, "The speed of the clock ticking in Congress is not the same speed as a clock ticking with an epidemic."
Congress returns to work next week. Whether it's prepared to act with any urgency in this matter is unclear, but the odds are probably against it.