Summer is coming and with it swarms of mosquitos that could transmit the Zika virus, which is linked to serious neurological defects in newborns. But Washington remains at an impasse over how best to prepare for the illness.
President Barack Obama is pushing Congress for a standalone emergency package worth nearly $2 billion to eradicate Zika. But House Republicans argue money already is available to fight the disease.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., wants to take funds originally designated to fight the Ebola virus and use them to combat Zika. That not only would be more fiscally responsible, he told The Daily Signal, it also could be more efficient.
“There is more than enough existing funds to meet what the president has requested,” Meadows said, referring to unspent dollars allocated by Congress during the overseas Ebola epidemic in 2014.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, $2.8 billion of $5.4 billion in funds appropriated for Ebola remain unobligated.
And Meadows, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that addresses global health issues, said “the lion’s share” of those funds could be deployed to fight Zika without congressional action.
In April, the Obama administration tapped $510 million in unused Ebola funding for the new fight against Zika. But officials insist more money is needed to bolster America’s defenses against the disease.
Amy Pope, White House deputy homeland security adviser, characterized the move as a temporary measure.
“We cannot undermine our fight against Ebola or all the other health epidemics that exist to take the fight to Zika,” she said at a press conference last month, “but let me be clear, even if we make these hard choices, the money we have now is not enough.”
While the Ebola virus has ebbed globally, concern over Zika has increased.
The mosquito-borne disease poses the greatest threat to pregnant women, public health officials say. The virus can lead to microcephaly, a condition that retards development of a newborn’s brain and head, causing catastrophic disability.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 426 cases of “travel associated Zika” in the continental United States and 596 “locally acquired cases” in U.S. territories. The first fatality on U.S. soil was reported April 30 in Puerto Rico.
Now some members of Florida’s congressional delegation, where the Zika risk is highest in the U.S. because of a climate hospitable to mosquitoes, have bucked the party line on the issue.
“Zika’s shadow is spreading too quickly in Florida, which has one quarter of all the Zika cases in the United States,” Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said Monday. Buchanan is the first House Republican to publicly back Obama’s Zika request.
In a floor speech April 28, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called for Congress to quickly take up the issue:
There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or Democrat position on Zika because these mosquitoes bite everyone, and they’re not going to ask you what your party registration is or who you plan to vote for in November.
Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation, supports redirecting Ebola funding for the Zika fight. But the conservative group notes that any additional emergency spending ought to come from spending cuts to other government programs and initiatives.