Fla. lawmakers say 'I told you so,' about threat of Zika virus, need for federal funding
By Christine Sexton
TALLAHASSEE - Top Florida Democrats and Republicans, who have been hollering at Congress for months about boosting funding to stop the spread of the Zika virus, ratcheted up their rhetoric on Friday following the announcement that the first confirmed non-travel Zika cases had emerged in the state.
"If there was ever a time for Congress to act, it is now," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "I urge you to immediately reconvene the Senate so we can take up and pass an emergency spending bill that will provide our health officials with the resources they need to contain the spread of this virus now."
Speaking to reporters in South Florida on Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said he had been warning lawmakers in Washington since January about the threat of the Zika virus.
"We now know that there are mosquitoes in the state of Florida that are carrying the Zika virus and four Floridians have been infected," he said in a transcript of remarks released by his Senate office.
"This problem will only get worse, not better, unless we get ahead of it," said Rubio, who supported President Barack Obama's $1.9 billion request for Zika funding and a failed compromise measure of $1.1 billion.
"Zika is not a partisan issue. It is not a political issue. Zika doesn't just bite Republicans or Democrats or Independent - it bites everyone," said Rubio.
Echoing Nelson, Rubio said Congress should return to Washington "and approve additional funding to deal with this issue before it becomes a full-blown crisis."
In the House, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, from Weston, issued a statement saying she would "continue to pressure" GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan to address Zika funding.
"Today's reports that four South Floridians have contracted the Zika virus from local mosquitoes is more than simply an, 'I told you so' moment. It is a startling new phase in this public health crisis." she said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also has asked that the Senate be reconvened to pass a spending bill with Zika funding.
Congress recessed two weeks ago without approving a Zika funding package due in part to a partisan split regarding spending on family planning money.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that there were four confirmed non-travel Zika cases in Florida -three men and one woman. The state Department of Health said that no mosquito has tested positive for Zika, but that the cases were not travel-related and were reported from a one square-mile area in downtown Miami.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report shows that there are more 1,600 people in the continental United States who are infected with the virus, including 433 pregnant women. The four cases from Florida are the first reported non travel Zika cases in the continental United States.