Zika funding first, politics later

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden testifies about the Zika threat last week before a Senate subcommittee. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Predictably but sadly, Congress left Washington last week without approving funding to fight the deadly Zika virus.

Members are pointing to those on the other side of the aisle as the culprits. But voters should see it as a colossal failure of both sides.

And voters and legislators alike should recognize that not allocating adequate federal money to mitigate the looming threat is irresponsible and short-sighted.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 72 percent of Americans (including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents) want more federal funds allocated to study the Zika virus and prevent its spread.

Is it any wonder Americans hold in such low esteem a Congress that is unwilling to get the job done?

Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus have given birth to babies with microcephaly — a small brain — and have themselves experienced illness and paralysis.

Congress is playing politics with people’s lives. Two months ago, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan compromise that appropriated $1.1 billion without any significant caveats. President Barack Obama was prepared to sign it, despite having requested $1.9 billion.

But then House Republicans attached provisions to the bill and the bickering began.

Republicans accuse Democrats of making demands purely for political capital in November’s elections. For example, Democrats objected to the bill because it prevents funding from going to private clinics, including Planned Parenthood. And they objected to temporarily waiving the Environmental Protection Agency’s permitting process for certain mosquito control pesticides for 180 days.

Senate Democrats rejected the House compromise, noting that women who are susceptible to Zika are often treated in private family-planning organizations like Planned Parenthood, and contending that some have no other options.

Further, Democrats take issue with tacking onto the bill a rider that would undo a ban on displaying the Confederate flag at U.S. military cemeteries.

Last week, the House recessed until Sept. 6, leaving Zika funding in limbo and leaving citizens at higher risk of contracting the disease. About 1,200 Zika cases have been confirmed in the continental U.S. Most affected people had traveled to areas like Puerto Rico and Brazil. But there have also been cases of people spreading the virus sexually to others here in the U.S.

It is shameful that Congress has been unwilling to take measures to protect its constituents.

Both Democrats and Republicans need to understand that saving lives is far more important that scoring political points.