Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) says his state will experience a Zika virus “disaster” if federal authorities don’t immediately provide money to help battle the disease, which has been linked to dangerous birth defects.
Before adjourning for its August recess, Congress failed to approve an emergency Zika-funding bill that would have provided $1.1 billion for Zika-related vaccines and research to local and state health departments, and Medicaid programs.
Senate Democrats blocked the bill because they say Senate Republicans excluded funding for Planned Parenthood.
Politics Come First
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) sponsored an earlier Zika-related bill, the Zika Vector Control Act, which would have altered pesticide spraying permit requirements near waterways. The bill passed the House in May, but Senate Democrats blocked it, claiming it would have weakened the 1972 Clean Water Act. Gibbs and others have argued the bill would only expedite the spraying of pesticides already approved for use near water under the 1910 Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
“In the House, we passed $1.1 billion in Zika spending, yet for some reason the Senate Democrats are blocking cloture to push the vote forward because they’re saying we’re defunding or not funding Planned Parenthood, but there’s no mention of Planned Parenthood anywhere in the bill,” said Gibbs. “The bill provided funding for the hospitals, community health centers, state health departments, and Medicaid, so if they have a Zika outbreak in their area, they will have the resources to fight it.
“I suppose if Planned Parenthood were a community health center, they could apply for funds to do mosquito efforts and fight the outbreak, but there’s no mention of Planned Parenthood in the bill, either for or against,” said Gibbs. “They pulled this from outer space and are using it for political purposes—because this is an election year—to somehow show House Republicans aren’t taking care of Zika, but we passed a bill in the House. Senate Democrats held it up.
“Around the country there are about 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Zika, more than 700 of those [involve] pregnant women, so unfortunately, we’re going to start seeing babies being born with birth defects, and that’s a real shame,” said Gibbs. “We have to do everything we can to prevent this from happening and spare people the obvious human and financial costs. It’s despicable Democrats are holding up funding to fight Zika because they think Planned Parenthood ought to be mentioned. It’s really asinine.”
The $1.1 billion figure included in the House bill was determined based on this year’s mosquito control season. Gibbs says if Zika continues to be a problem in 2017, Congress may have to appropriate even more funding for Zika-control efforts.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.