Just before Congress left on its seven-week summer vaycay, there was a chance to pass a $1.1 billion bill to fund the fight against Zika. But the parties failed to reach a compromise, so they shrugged and headed to their respective beach houses. When will Congress approve more Zika funding? It doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. The politics have gotten just too bitter.
Now faced with the first known transmission of Zika from a mosquito, the country is running out of money to fight its spread. During a recent press conference, President Obama called on Congress to do its job, stop the division, and get a Zika funding bill passed.
"Our experts at the CDC, the folks on the front lines have been doing their best in making due by moving funds from other areas, but now the money we need to fight Zika is rapidly running out," he said, according to Fox News. He added that the delay in passing a funding measure could in turn delay the development of a Zika vaccine.
So why weren't lawmakers able to compromise on the desperately-needed $1.1 billion in funding? Fox reported Republicans wanted to add on abortion restrictions to the funding, which is particularly troubling at a time when the disease is putting millions of pregnant women and their babies at risk. Zika in pregnant women has been linked to microcephaly, a catastrophic birth defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because the Dems wouldn't roll back guaranteed rights to abortion, the Republicans used the opportunity to make the left look bad. So here we are. No new funding to fight Zika.
Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are calling on Congress to cut its summer breaks short and return to Washington D.C. to hammer out a deal. Here's what she said at a recent campaign stop in Miami, about getting Zika funding passed, according to The Atlantic.
I am very disappointed that the Congress went on recess before actually agreeing on what they would do to put the resources into this fight, and I really am hoping that they will pay attention. In fact, I would very much urge the leadership of Congress to call people back for a special session and get a bill passed. Get a bill that is focused on combatting Zika passed. Then health departments, local and state governments—everybody will know that there are resources coming forth and they will be able to take action.
Nancy Pelosi and other high-ranking Democrats have echoed the same message. "We have emergencies that have been there for months that Congress left without addressing," she said, according to CBS News.
CBS News also reported the Rep. Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut says the funding to work on a vaccine will run out by the end of August. "The money is running out and our public health officials cannot combat this virus without additional funding," DeLauro said. "Speaker Ryan, call the House of Representatives back."
Based on its previous performance, it seems unlikely Congress will be able to break the political gridlock, even in the face of a national public health crisis.
But it looks like Obama has a plan to keep the fight against Zika prevention funded in the absence of Congressional will to act. On Thursday, The Department of Health and Human Services Secretary sent a letter stating the Obama administration has a plan to shift $81 million from Health and Homeland Security to fight Zika, according to the Washington Post. That would just be a stopgap measure however. The administration estimates the fight against Zika will top $1.9 billion.