ZIKA virus funding fails: Partisan Politics 1, Public’s Health 0!
Bipartisan compromise fails again. Once again, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress demonstrate that they would rather quibble and argue than act in the best interests of the people they serve. In February, the White House requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat an emerging Zika virus public health crisis. In an effort at bipartisan compromise, funding not directly related to the ZIKA crisis was removed from the original Administration request leaving $1.1 billion of new funding for prevention, research, education, health services, international aid, and vaccine development. This bipartisan compromise measure passed the Senate in May by an 89-8 vote in favor of the compromise. This week, the House-Senate conference report compromise, which had just passed in the House of Representatives, was rejected by the Senate on a vote of 52-48 in favor of the compromise bill. However, to pass Senate procedural hurdles, the vote in favor of the compromise bill needed 60 or more votes, so fell 8 votes short.
This 52-48 vote in favor of the compromise bill still fails to achieve the required Senate threshold. However, this does not necessarily mean the bill is totally dead. The bill could come up for another vote when the Senate returns after the July 4 holiday break. However, is there reason for optimism? If the bill succeeds, then additional compromise will almost certainly be required—so will either party “compromise” to achieve a vote in favor of the public’s health. If the bill fails again, then there will not be adequate funding for Zika research or infection prevention and no extra funds for mosquito eradication as we enter the mosquito season, especially in the deep South. Funds from unused Ebola appropriations, and some unused ACA appropriations funds, could be allocated to Zika eradication and research—approximately $622 million, or about half that contained in the current bill and about a third of the original Administration request.
In any piece of legislation, there are always numerous points of disagreement. This is just one reason that bipartisan cooperation is always so important, institutionalizing the never-ending need for compromise. Two of the issues that upset Democrats about the bill include some so-called “poison pills” in the current legislation. For example, the bill from the House of Representatives directs funds through hospitals and public health clinics, but excludes women’s health clinics like Planned Parenthood. This is a “hot-button” issue for the Democrats who argue that those at greatest risk for serious adverse effects from Zika infection are the children of pregnant women! So how can any bill exclude women’s health clinics from the funding stream? But the Republicans have an intense disdain for that organization, Planned Parenthood. Another point of difference is that part of the bill waves the EPA permitting process for use of certain pesticides for a 180 day period for emergency mosquito eradication. Democrats argue that this component of the bill weakens the clean water and air protections. But the Democrats have an intense disdain for any restrictions placed on the EPA.
Of course, there are other issues of mutual disagreement. The only matter that seems to be in short supply is a desire to compromise, with both parties getting some of what they want but not all they demand. So can our long serving, experienced, intelligent and clever, political leaders sublimate their political priorities to forge a compromise solution that serves the public good? Stay tuned! We should know the answer to this question within the next 30 days.