“Agreement” advanced by House, Senate Republicans fails to garner support
Bill with restrictions to contraception access, lifting of environmental protections, hits to domestic health and Ebola control efforts would have faced President’s veto if passed
As Senate Democrats had warned a week before, the $1.1 billion Zika funding package crafted by a bicameral committee of congressional leaders and passed by the House June 23 fell short of the 60 votes it needed to move forward in the Senate today.
And after the count of the 52 votes to advance the bill and 48 votes against, along expected party lines, with Republicans for and Democrats against the bill that reallocated funds from Ebola responses and the Affordable Care Act, restricting contraception resources and lifting Clean Water Act provisions in the process, accusations and explanations began anew.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) rose and referred to the Zika outbreak, which was noted in the Western Hemisphere for the first time more than a year ago and has spread across 60 countries — causing thousands of babies to be born with microcephaly — before and since its link to devastating birth defects and neurological disorders was noted, as “a pending health care crisis.”
“The single most effective thing we can do is kill as many mosquitoes as possible,” he said. “Here we are going into the 4th of July.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Ut), went next and recounted Republican Senator John Cornyn’s action to block passage of Zika funding in the four months following President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency money in early February — scuttling five proposals on April 28, May 18, and May 24th, as he reprimanded Sen. McConnell.
While the Senate finally agreed to a spending package providing $1.1 billion for Zika responses in May, the House countered a week later with a bill providing less than a third of the requested funds coming entirely out of already budgeted money. The “agreement” passed by the House last week allotted $1.1 billion, but otherwise differed starkly from the Senate bill.
“Does he think we’re all stupid?” Reid asked. He listed provisions in the bill he said Republicans knew would be unacceptable to Democrats — including suspension of the Clean Water Act to allow spraying of toxic pesticides in waterways, effectively blocking funds from the free-standing clinics that are most women’s source for birth control, and in moves unrelated to Zika but included in the “agreement” slashing funding for veterans services, and allowing the display of Confederate flags in veterans’ cemeteries. “I don’t ever remember anything as outrageous, as shameful, as this legislation,” he concluded. “This is the worst.”
Sen. Cornyn (R-Tx), in turn, used a larger than life-size photo of a child born with severe microcephaly as a prop, and again reminded, that now, “We’re getting closer to mosquito season.” The Zika outbreak now, which has not yet been transmitted by mosquitos in the continental United States, he said, “is at our doorstep!”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently monitoring more than 200 pregnant women who have been infected with Zika in the continental United States, and 189 in Puerto Rico. The virus has been linked to three pregnancy losses, and four children born with severe birth defects in the United States.
Democrats “have repeatedly called for an expedited resolution,” he said, quoting Sen. Reid urging funding in May.
A new deadline for action is set now for mid-July, when Congress will recess until the end of the summer. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) followed Cornyn and reminded Senators that action toward a bipartisan agreement could have continued had House members not left for vacation.