Efforts to fight the Zika virus are the latest expression of American partisanship and Congress’ inability to act in times of crisis. Congress always seems to find a way to politicize any issue that requires the immediate passage of legislation, and the dangerous viral outbreak is no exception.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and congressional Democrats, and President Obama — has requested funds to study and fight the Zika virus, but Republicans want to combat it by stripping away environmental regulations on an array of pesticides.
The White House asked Congress back in February for $1.9 billion to protect the country from Zika, but Republicans aren’t having it. Instead, last week the House approved legislation to reallocate $622 million from other federal health programs, including money being used to combat Ebola, and put it towards the fight against Zika. The Senate, for its part, passed a measure that would provide $1.1 billion in emergency funds.
Rather than committing to funding the full amount necessary to combat a serious outbreak, House Republicans passed a bill easing restrictions on pesticides — it’s a playbook move, to use a public health emergency to try to weaken unrelated environmental restrictions. In an op-ed published Tuesday on CNBC.com, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) laid out the too-simple-to-be-true argument:
There is currently no known cure or vaccine for Zika. While the House and Senate are at work providing funding to research and stop the spread of the virus, there is an easy way to help prevent the virus from becoming widespread in the United States.
Hint: It’s using more pesticides without EPA approval. And, as a spokesperson for Gibbs admitted to The Hill, “other than the title and a new expiration date, the bill has not changed since it was known as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act.”
While Republicans accuse Democrats of politicizing the virus as a pretext for government-funded abortions — though that would be against the law — Democrats have refused to concede on the real possibility of harmful deregulation. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the measure, accusing Republicans of using the Zika virus crisis to push politicized legislation that they say is basically the same as legislation they first proposed in 2005.
“Rebranding legislation that removes important Clean Water Act protections for public health and water quality is not an appropriate avenue for addressing the serious threat to the nation that the Zika virus poses,” said a White House statement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan responded by defending Republican strategy.
“In the midst of a Zika threat, the federal government should not be making it harder for people to kill the mosquitoes that could carry it,” Ryan’s office said in a statement. “This is serious stuff. We’re not talking about annoyances at your summer barbecue. Mosquitoes are the carriers of life-threatening exotic diseases, among which are the Zika and West Nile viruses.”
He also asked his Twitter followers to retweet a message that said “Mosquitoes carrying Zika must be killed,” along with a link to his official statement.
The medical community is denouncing the gridlock, and emphasizing the urgent need to address the mosquito-borne disease.
“Three months is an eternity for control of an outbreak,” director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Thomas Frieden told the New York Times. There is a narrow window of opportunity here and it’s closing. Every day that passes makes it harder to stop Zika.”
Photo: Josemary da Silva, 34, combs the hair of 5-month-old Gilberto after giving him a bath at her house in Algodao de Jandaira, Brazil February 17, 2016. Gilberto is da Silva’s fifth child and was born with microcephaly. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes