Senate Dems: Cancel recess to deal with Zika 'emergency'

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Washington, DC, August 1, 2016 | comments

POLITICO

Senate Dems: Cancel recess to deal with Zika 'emergency'

By Nicole Narea

Senate Democrats urged Congress on Friday to cut short its seven-week recess to pass a federal Zika aid package following confirmation of the first four locally-transmitted cases of the mosquito-born disease in the continental U.S..

"Zika is public health emergency that requires immediate bipartisan action," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tweeted. "Americans can't afford to wait until Congress' vacation is over."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also took to Twitter to rebuke Congress's lack of urgency on Zika. "I call on GOP Congressional leadership to #doyourjob &interrupt recess to immediately address #Zika public health crisis," he wrote.

For its part, the White House stopped short of calling on Congress to reconvene before the end of August, but advised that the Florida outbreak should be a “wake-up call” to lawmakers who skipped town without acting on the legislation.

“Congress has been sitting on a $1.9 billion proposal that would more fully fund federal response to this public health emergency,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters on Friday. “Unfortunately, they left town for seven weeks without doing anything on this. We find that regrettable. The President was calling this urgent back in February and Congress still decided to do nothing about it. They couldn’t find the time to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”

Though researchers have warned of an imminent outbreak for nearly a year, a Zika aid package has been stalled in congressional gridlock for nearly six months. “I don’t think mosquitoes have partisan affiliation," Schultz said, while jabbing at "Republican recalcitrants."

The Obama administration redirected nearly $600 million in existing funds for immediate preparedness efforts in May, but they are only a stopgap — and that money is starting to run out, the administration says. When asked whether he was calling on Congress to return from recess ahead of schedule to address a national health emergency, Schultz said that lawmakers should "get back to work as soon as it is convenient for them."

Now that the disease has arrived, Republicans and Democrats may continue to bicker over which party is to blame for failing to fund more research, prevention, control, and treatment efforts. When the bill was first brought to Congress in February, Republicans dismissed it as unnecessary. However, when the GOP put forth an alternative funding measure in June, Democrats blocked it, citing language in the bill that would threaten Planned Parenthood. The obstruction on both sides of the aisle may taint Florida swing voters come November.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) continues to admonish political jostling on Zika. “As I have said time and time again, both parties in Congress need to get it together and approve funding,” he said in a Friday statement. He also urged the Obama administration to reprogram more public health emergency funding as a short-term strategy to combat Zika.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the recently ousted former chair of the Democratic National Committee, joined in Rubio's finger-wagging on Friday. She slammed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for facilitating the current crisis, which she described as an "'I told you so' moment" in a statement. "Inexplicably, Speaker Ryan refused to bring this legislation to the Floor and Republicans consistently defeated amendments to stave off this crisis from reaching our shores," she said. "Instead, he and House Republicans have refused to spend any new funds on meaningful action, choosing to rob Peter to pay Paul. My House Democratic colleagues and I will continue to pressure Speaker Ryan and his Republican colleagues for more funding to combat Zika until they stop playing partisan politics and start doing their jobs."

After a briefing from his staff on Friday morning, Obama directed his team to ensure that not only the appropriate federal government agencies are closely monitoring the disease, but also to provide all possible support to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who the White House lauded for allocating $26.2 million in emergency state funds to Zika preparedness last month.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/florida-zika-white-house-226439#ixzz4Fv7V1dmo

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