Editorials

Congress fails again as Zika threat grows

An Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, on Jan. 27, 2016. Doctors speaking at a U.N. meeting on Global Health Crises said June 20, 2016, that the Zika virus has already affected 60 countries on four continents and a major outbreak on the Atlantic Ocean island nation of Cape Verde suggests the disease is now poised to enter continental Africa.
An Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, on Jan. 27, 2016. Doctors speaking at a U.N. meeting on Global Health Crises said June 20, 2016, that the Zika virus has already affected 60 countries on four continents and a major outbreak on the Atlantic Ocean island nation of Cape Verde suggests the disease is now poised to enter continental Africa. AP

Congress continues to neglect the American people by failing to approve funding aimed at neutralizing the Zika virus. On Tuesday, legislation authorizing $1.1 billion fell short of the 60 Senate votes necessary to advance. Partisan politics doomed the legislation, and as usual the blame game between Republicans and Democrats began immediately after the vote.

Tragically, that same day the Florida Department of Health officials confirmed a baby with Zika-related microcephaly was born in Florida. The defect causes abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development among other crippling conditions.

The mother, a Haiti citizen, had a travel-related case of Zika and came to Florida to deliver her baby, officials said. Previous cases, where mothers with travel-related cases of the virus gave birth to babies with microcephaly, were reported in Hawaii and New Jersey.

The announcement on the Florida birth came a day after state health department officials confirmed three new cases of the virus. Tuesday, the department added four more cases. The total as of Wednesday stands at 227, all travel-related. Most disturbing, 40 of those cases involve pregnant women. Manatee and Sarasota counties remain Zika free. Only New York counts more Zika cases than Florida.

Babies with microcephaly often have a series of developmental problems, including intellectual disability, hearing loss and vision problems and problems with movement and balance. Researchers established a connection between the birth defects and the Zika virus, which is primarily transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, earlier this year.

Immediately after the World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency on Feb. 1, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to attack the disease.

Yet as the crisis continues to mount, Congress once again flames out on funding over partisan politics. Previously, the House approved only $622 million while the Senate appropriated $1.1 billion. Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked passage of the new $1.1 billion bill because during reconciliation, Republican negotiators in the House and Senate poisoned the measure with assaults on the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood and environmental policy — clearly a shot at Democrats.

The provision on Planned Parenthood makes no sense since it prohibits government funding of contraceptives — a valuable weapon against Zika, which can be transmitted sexually.

The $1.9 billion is vital to treating the devastating disease, funding vaccine research and paying for a major increase in mosquito control. Even though the administration transferred $600 million from an existing ebola account to combat Zika, federal health officials and others say that is not enough to wage an immediate and effective response to the outbreak.

Congress utterly lacks any sense of urgency on fighting this virus, shamelessly batting the issue around for the past four months. And leaving Americans at risk, especially in Florida as the summer rainy season starts. Fault lies with both Democrats and Republicans. Americans’ approval rating of Congress cannot sink much lower. This exchange from Senate leaders spotlights the deep partisan divide:

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — “Pregnant women all across America are looking at this with dismay, utter dismay, as we sit here in partisan gridlock manufactured by the other side.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. — “I don’t know what universe my friend is living in (referring to McConnell). What does he think? Does he think we’re all stupid? The American people are dumb?”

Congress will now take its Fourth of July break and flee Washington in typical gridlock fashion. And as usual, too, citizens suffer the consequences — this time with a public health emergency. If this threat cannot compel compromise and action, then Congress should be thrown out of office. November’s right around the corner.

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