Congressional Republicans Delay Action on Zika, Despite Risk to Babies

Here come the mosquitoes… and maybe the Zika virus:

Lancet/CBS Zika US graphic

In February, the White House asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to tackle the Zika virus and the aedes aegypti mosquito that can transmit it. Republicans on House Appropriations told the President to spend his Ebola money first. The White House took Congress up on that suggestion to the tune of $600 million. But Congress is still too busy (with what, we may ask) to craft a solution to a public health risk that requires action now. House Republicans are resisting calling an emergency an emergency, thus leaving local governments to come up with their own solutions and the rest of us to wear long sleeves and dump standing water out of our buckets and birdbaths.

Let’s review the harm the Zika virus can do:

In recent weeks, officials’ concerns about Zika have been amplified by a steady stream of unsettling discoveries about the virus’s reach and effects. The World Health Organization formally declared for the first time last week that Zika causes the birth defect microcephaly and the autoimmune condition Guillain-Barré syndrome, and researchers are investigating possible links between Zika and brain and spinal-cord infections. Though there haven’t been any locally acquired cases in the continental United States—and just 346 travel-related cases—the coming summer months are a concern. The virus is particularly worrisome for cities like Miami and Houston, which have high population densities and high temperatures and are home to Zika’s host mosquito, as Adrienne LaFrance reported earlier this week.

What scientists are learning about Zika “is not reassuring,” [CDC principal deputy director Anne] Schuchat said Monday. Researchers have been most concerned in recent months about Zika’s effect on pregnant women, because of the connection to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. Schuchat noted the pregnancy complications could be even broader than what officials once thought: Zika has been linked to premature births and eye conditions in infants. Women at every stage of pregnancy may be vulnerable to the virus’s effects; previously, health officials thought only first-trimester pregnancies could be affected [Nora Kelly, “The Obama Administration’s Zika Offensive,” The Atlantic, 2016.04.12].

Zika’s bad for babies, but Rep. Kristi Noem and her fellow Republicans are balking at paying to protect babies from Zika. Funny how Republicans like Noem will vote without hesitation to take money away from perceived threats to babies but can’t act with the same alacrity to spend money to protect babies from real health threats. Someone seems to have an incomplete definition of pro-life.

37 Responses to Congressional Republicans Delay Action on Zika, Despite Risk to Babies

  1. Darin Larson

    The map of potential transmission areas for Zika keeps growing, our understanding of the potential dangers of Zika keeps growing, the number of infections and babies harmed by this virus keeps growing, and the incredible shrinking Congress keeps dragging its’ feet. Remember this when Republicans talk about how slow government is to react to problems and threats that others see from miles away. Republicans have met the enemy to effective government and they are it.

    On the bright side, the summer tourism season could be the best ever in South Dakota as Southerners flock to our state to enjoy some time outdoors without the dangers of Zika hanging over their heads.

  2. mike from iowa

    Do a side by side comparison between the Zika virus and the plague known as wingnuts. Let people decide which is the greater threat. Hint-it has to be wingnuts as they are equal opportunity damagers to people of all walks and ages and colors,except rich,white ones.

  3. Real problems: Zika virus, lead poisoning, climate change, …
    Not so real problems: Voter fraud, bathroom usage, religious freedom,…
    On which side do we find our Republican friends?
    Uh huh!!

  4. What has South Dakota done to help protect it’s own citizens from this virus? What legislation did the state legislature pass to start figuring out a state solution?

    While we were all tied up in bathrooms and religious problems, we have a real problem on hand here. Our state legislature failed to get the ball rolling on this one and our state government has taken the lets wait and see what the federal government does, before we act.

  5. Roger Cornelius

    Remember when the wingnuts (just for you mike from iowa) were blaming President Obama for Ebola because he allowed immigrants into the country. There were supposedly thousands if not millions Americans that would die because of Ebola and it be President Obama’s fault. It took a slap on the side of the head to bring wingnuts around.
    Now we have Zika that is real threat to many parts of the country, particularly to women and children. This alone tells why the republican congress has voted like it has, it doesn’t have a real impact on stodgy white guys.
    South Dakota republicans don’t have an action plan against Zika since they feel superior and the disease will not affect them.

  6. mike from iowa

    Well said,Roger.

  7. I wrote on this last week for The Nonprofit Quarterly:

    Obama’s $1.9 Billion Zika Request: Slush Fund or Needed Flexibility?

  8. owen reitzel

    real problem for the far right. Spend the money and save the babies or cut spending on this and maybe babies are deformed. Hmmm what to do.

  9. A large politically donating corporation that stands to make billions off of this virus is the only thing that will get republicans going. Once they figure out a way to profit from this, then republicans will be all over it.

  10. Michael, what a reasonable and non-partisan counterpoint! Thank you. I’m still surprised we’ve had a two-month delay in deciding how much to add to the shifted Ebola money. If we’re facing a new mosquito-borne illness, don’t we really need to put the federal money in motion sooner than a month or less before the mosquitos come out?

  11. mike from iowa

    Wingnuts will demand an end to funding for Planned Parenthood because someone will show a doctored video of a sinister looking person aborting mosquito larvae ( the old spraying oil on stagnant water to smother the larvae films from grade school).

    Mitch McCTurtle and Marlboro Barbie Thune are feverishly brib…er..negotiating with mosquitoes to bite persons of color to prevent them from voting in November.

  12. Darin Larson

    Michael Wyland, I read your article and it is evenhanded in the sense that it gives both sides some sound bites. Unfortunately, it is also misses the mark. The arguments in favor of the authorization for funding for the Zika fight were barely touched upon.

    The chief and seemingly only argument against increased funding is that Congress has to be good stewards of public funds and they aren’t sure that this threat warrants the extra spending yet.

    If this question is just about economics which the opponents contend, which it obviously isn’t, how about tackling some numbers? What is the increased healthcare costs if 1000 kids in the US are greatly affected by Zika? 1000 kids times $200,000 in increased lifetime healthcare costs is $200 million.

    Next, lets say 500 kids get microcephaly from Zika. The lifetime earning capacity of kids with microcephaly could be a minus $500,000 as they may require institutional care. That is another $250 million.

    Next, those 500 kids could have earned an average of $50,000 a year for 45 years in the work force which is $1.125 billion.

    Thus, if you add these numbers up you come up with $1.575 billion. It wouldn’t be that hard to reach $2 billion if the numbers change from these pie in the sky numbers. These are just US infection numbers. What about the costs of people infected with Zika coming from other countries and needing healthcare here?

    What if the infection rate is worse than these guesses?

    What about the fact that Zika is infecting many thousands in other countries and we have the best medical labs and researchers in the world to do something about the problem here, especially if we have the proper funding?

    Then, of course, it is not all about economics. Families affected by the devastation of Zika will endure unimaginable pain and agony and possibly a lifetime of thinking what if this could have been prevented.

    This could end up to be a case study in the absolute dysfunction of our government. Trillions for wars in the Middle East and not a couple of billion for the fight against Zika.

  13. Did you all think anything different from the ‘pubs? There is no money to be made on fighting the zika. They would rather spend it on continual wars.

  14. If the Zika virus was affecting Kristi or Thune’s hometowns you can bet your holy ass they would both be voting for emergency money to tackle it.

  15. Darin:

    I appreciate your response and your taking the time to read the article.

    The GOP resistance to the spending request wasn’t based on the amount of the request. It was, rather, based on the lack of specificity in how the funds would be used (i.e., which agencies and which initiatives) and over what period of time. The administration has already issued a revised, more specific request, so there appears to be movement towards an agreement.

  16. And that goes for Rounds the Pierre clown also. He would be hollering for money if zika was affecting his beloved town.

  17. Cory:

    Thanks for your kind words! The good news was that $600 million in current year funding was reallocated to Zika almost immediately. The questions were over how the spending of the $600 million would relate to the spending of the additional $1.9 billion, and how exactly the $1.9 billion in additional funds would be spent once authorized.

  18. The administration should have simply called it a block grant, and repubs would have supported it from the get go.

  19. How did they arrive at $1.9 billion?? Is there any oversight and thought in that large of a number? I love to read about how liberals seem to love children more than Repubs, but don’t mind killing them at will before they are born.

  20. Darin Larson

    Stumpy, Congress spends a couple billion dollars each day before breakfast. The Pentagon probably wasted a couple billion before lunch today. For the Republicans in Congress to hold up this funding and acting like they are good managers of money is laughable.

    If the experts at the CDC and public health officials think we need authorization for $2 billion to combat Zika, that is who I will believe. As the saying goes, plan for the worst, hope for the best.

    Congressional Republicans on the other hand will hold up this funding and then blame the administration for ineffectiveness and unpreparedness when Zika explodes later this year.

  21. mike from iowa

    how liberals seem to love children more than Repubs, but don’t mind killing them at will before they are born.

    They aren’t children-they are parasites and before the age of viablity can’t live outside their host’s parasitic nursery.

  22. mike from iowa

    Cruz wasted 20 to 30 billion dollars shutting the gubmint partway down out of sheer petulance with zero foresight or oversight.

  23. mike from iowa

    The very idea that wingnuts care about specifics in spending is a real thigh-slapper.

  24. Okay, good policy. Because liberals hate the GOP and think they waste money, we should throw 1.9 billion at something without much of a plan. Wow, the anger and hatred spewed on this site is I believe a good representation of the out of control, all about me attitude of the liberal party.

  25. mike from iowa

    Seems like a dumbass dubya cabinet member got canned for saying dumbass’ war in Iraq would cost more than 50 billion bucks. Were past a trillion or two on that black hole with no end in sight. Talk about wasted money.

  26. crossgrain

    Stumcfar – There is a plan:

    In my extremely cursory research, $828 million would go to the CDC to pay for surveillance and rapid response programs. An additional $200 million would go to research and development of a vaccine. That still leaves a few hundred million (!) unaccounted for, so I would encourage anyone with an interest to look harder than I did.

  27. Good start, Cross! The White House outlines the direction for all of the dollars here:

    Certainly beats Trump’s bumper sticker foreign policy and Congress’s do-nothing policy.

  28. Darin Larson

    Zika funding will run out by the end of the month at the National Institute of Health. The CDC funds that were left over from Ebola will run out by the end of next month. Phase 2 drug trials put in jeopardy or having to be delayed. Zika cases ramping up. Congress in recess.

  29. mike from iowa

    Darin-I just got this from Sinato r Grassley’s office.

    Questioning the Federal Government’s Slow Response on Zika Spending

    I wrote to two federal agencies seeking answers on why they have been slow to distribute $589 million to fight the Zika virus, which has now entered the continental United States.

    In the meantime, the Administration and congressional allies have criticized the congressional majority for not giving final approval to more spending.

    Roll Call reports that the Administration is “struggling to explain why it is pressing Congress for more money to fight the Zika virus while sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars that it already controls and could be used instead.”

    Everyone agrees that fighting Zika is critical, and agency officials have been sounding the alarm, so it’s unclear why the agencies have been slow to distribute available federal funds to fight the illness and short on effective strategies and information to the public.

    Taxpayers have the right to expect that these agencies are ready to protect all of us from public health threats and to use the money already on hand before asking for more.

    I look forward to answers on how the $589 million to fight Zika is being spent, as well as information on what the agencies are doing with their existing resources. The agency responses are overdue. I’ll keep pressing on taxpayers’ behalf.

  30. Darin Larson

    “Taxpayers have the right to expect that these agencies are ready to protect all of us from public health threats and to use the money already on hand before asking for more.”

    That is a good one Mike. The agencies should protect us all from threats but use all the money before asking for more. Makes perfect sense, NOT! Keep preaching government is ineffective and doesn’t work and then withhold the funds necessary for it to work and then complain how ineffective the government is. Rinse and repeat!

  31. Darin Larson

    Well, Senator Grassley, we have used all the money on hand, “please sir, may we have some more?”

    There are now over 500 pregnant women with Zika in the US and the CDC director says they are just about out of money to fight it.

    Republicans care about whether a woman has an abortion, but they don’t seem to care about whether the child is born healthy? What gives with the lack of funding?

  32. Ah, Darin, you’re asking for consistent application of principles rather than single-issue pandering. It’s just like South Dakota Right to Life: when pressed on whether their single-issue advocacy is bad for borader policy making, they will aver that they are concerned about numerous health and welfare issues. But when they issue their voter guide, all they talk about is abortion.

  33. bearcreekbat

    In his recent op-ed Mike Rounds blames the lack of Zika funding on Democrat obstruction, apparently because Democrats objected to language added to the bill aimed at restricting Planned Parenthood’s effort to assist pregnant women. Who knew?

    I wonder if Mike Rounds is aware of this problem. If so, isn’t he being a bit duplicitous in his editorial by failing to mention the Republican efforts to stop Planned Parenthood programs?

  34. Completely, Bear. Why don’t we have just a bill appropriating the Zika money? Wouldn’t that be easier and faster than piling on extraneous amendments for political points?

  35. mike from iowa

    Is Zika a national emergency? If so fund the damn thing w/o playing partisan games. Take the money out of the vastly inflated Defense budget and stop cutting social services to the poor.

  36. Darin Larson

    If Rounds thinks that he can claim that Republicans are trying to fund the Zika fight while attaching other issues to the funding bill, he is sadly mistaken. That is the BS political nonsense that only partisan hacks support. To essentially hold women and infant’s health hostage to try to exact some political advantage is the mark of the WORST kind of politician!

  37. I agree, Mike and Darin. If there’s a pressing problem, we don’t have time to consider partisan advantage. Just solve it and move on.