So Why Isn’t Congress Funding Any Aid For Zika? | Gradient

So why isn’t Congress funding any aid for Zika?


The Zika virus is in the United States. As of this writing, there are 1,825 confirmed cases, and a spread is likely (despite some novel attempts at slowing it down). It’s a pressing health emergency, which is the sort of thing we generally look to our elected officials for help with, but the good people of America may have to take care of this one on our own, because our leaders are fighting like toddlers.

The White House requested 1.9 billion dollars to fight Zika back in February but that ask has been subjected to a slew of partisan infighting, juvenile brinkmanship and lots of general Machiavellian, House of Cards shit. Let’s take a look at what went down.

In May, the Senate slashed the Obama Administration’s original $1.9 billion request down to $1.1 billion, while President Obama redirected about $600 million originally pledged to fight the Ebola virus towards fighting Zika instead. Senate Democrats originally said they were willing to play ball with this reduced budget, but here’s where things started to get slimy.

As part of the new bill, Republicans added a few provisions. They cut $540 million from Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They bizarrely stripped a House provision banning the flying of Confederate flags in federal cemeteries. And most vexingly to Democrats, they restricted the role of Planned Parenthood in fighting Zika.

Planned Parenthood is the scourge of elected Republicans and they’d be loathe to see any federal funds going towards it, even to fight Zika. This infuriated Democrats, who say the bill itself is only a half measure without enlisting the help of Planned Parenthood in distributing contraceptives. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson said the GOP’s new measures would limit access “to birth control services needed to help curb the spread of the virus and prevent terrible birth defects,” calling the new bill not “a serious solution.”

That’s only partly true, as Politifact pointed out that even without Planned Parenthood, women in Zika-infected areas would still have access to other women’s health clinics. It’s hard to believe that Republicans didn’t know the Planned Parenthood provision would ruffle feathers with elected Democrats and their constituents, but on the whole, the provision itself doesn’t dramatically alter the bill. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats blocked the new bill, and Congress headed into its August recess without having passed any legislation to help stem the tide of Zika.

So, in summary: a bill providing aid to fight Zika was ready to go, Republicans loaded the bill with partisan fat, Democrats cried foul and everyone ended up going home without having accomplished a single thing. Nothing. They might as well have not met at all for all the good it ended up doing. In the meantime, Zika is here, in the United States. And Congress won’t be convening again until September to figure out how to stop it.

None of this drama made it into House Speaker Paul Ryan’s USA Today op-ed, where he chastised Democrats for being “obstructionist”, saying “unfortunately, when this plan went to the Senate for a vote, Democrats derailed it …despite months of calling for action.”

This is all accurate as far as it goes, but it does not mention the extra weight Republicans added to the bill, which is why Politifact rated Ryan’s op-ed only “half true”. Democrats are calling for a new bipartisan funding bill, but Republicans are balking. President Obama blasted Congress for not getting its act together, calling out Republicans for cutting his initial proposed budget. But he didn’t mention that it was Democrats who actually blocked the vote.

So, yes, there’s a lot of finger pointing to go around, and it’s probably a matter of opinion as to who’s more to blame. What’s not up for debate is that while Democrats and Republicans continue to thump their chests, Zika is spreading. And as of right now, the U.S. government isn’t putting nearly enough money towards stopping it.

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