by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Zika is this year’s Ebola, bird flu, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. One day, a pandemic will live up to its early billing. A Black Death, a Spanish Influenza, or something unknown and unnamed, is going to kill millions of people despite the world’s best efforts.
Two families of mosquitoes and the Zika virus they carry potentially pose serious threats to Americans, but the two species of candidates are more interested in making their animosities go viral.
Politicians who railed against each other last month in Cleveland and Philadelphia have added Zika to their political armamentarium. It is far easier to complain that the other side stands in the way of progress than to get out of the way oneself.
The House of Representatives and the Senate have passed bills for Zika spending, but the two bills were written differently, and the legislators did not resolve their differences before leaving for the summer recess. Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell informed congressional leaders that money allocated for vaccine research and testing is running out.
Republicans retorted that the president could release other funds left over from fighting Ebola, but they suggested that the president wants a political issue for attacking Republicans. It’s a “blatant ploy in an election year,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. Clearly both sides are guilty of that.
Since the most frightening consequence of the disease is a birth defect, the legislative controversy has centered on whether fighting Zika will lead to abortions and whether the Planned Parenthood organization should receive federal funds.
Senate Democrats are filibustering the Zika bill passed by the House, saying that the House Republicans restricted the use of money by Planned Parenthood and reduced funding for birth control. House Republicans refuse to take up a Senate bill providing the same amount of money without the provisions the Democrats are worried about.
Both sides ought to drop their technical objections and pass the simplest possible bill providing the money they both agree should be spent to fight Zika. There are no political points to be scored by either side as long as the only form of cooperation is obstruction.