Florida editorial boards have lambasted the Republican-led Congress for killing legislation that provided funding for states combating Zika by attaching “poison pill provisions.” The House Republican-backed legislation would defund Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act in communities most affected by Zika, reducing accessibility to family-planning services that could “prevent sexually transmitted Zika cases and unwanted pregnancies for women at high risk of contracting the virus.”
Republican-Led Congress Does Not Pass Funding For Fight Against Zika In Florida
Tampa Bay Times: “Congress Went On Vacation” Without “Allocating The Money.” After the first Zika outbreak was confirmed in the United States, the Tampa Bay Times criticized congressional Republicans for going “on vacation” without “allocating the money” to address the virus’ spread. On August 8, the editorial board noted that House Republicans “turn[ed] what should have been a no-brainer vote into a partisan hot potato” after Congress failed to pass funding measures before the summer recess. From the Tampa Bay Times:
Most Americans were awakened to the threat of this little-known virus early this year. Reports from Brazil and other parts of South America told of pregnant women having babies with severe birth defects, including microcephaly in which the head and brain are underdeveloped. The virus was quickly seen as a particular threat to Florida because of the state's mosquito-friendly climate and constant stream of international travelers. Congress had its first chance to respond in February, when Obama requested $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the virus.
What happened in the wake of that request? Health officials reported the first known case of sexually transmitted Zika, a new discovery about the virus. The World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency; travelers were cautioned about visiting viral hot zones; and several Olympic athletes announced their intention to skip the Summer Games in Rio because of health worries. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott declared an emergency as Zika showed up in several counties, including the Tampa Bay area. What didn't happen? Congress allocating the money.
More than a month passed before the Senate approved legislation to address the crisis, and even that modicum of progress was short-lived. When House Republicans got their hands on the bill, they reduced the overall funding to $1.1 billion and cut money from Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act, turning what should have been a no-brainer vote into a partisan hot potato. The bill died, and Congress went on vacation for weeks. [Tampa Bay Times, 8/5/16]
Editorial Boards Criticized Republicans For “Playing Politics With This Serious Public Health Issue.”
Miami Herald: “The Blame Lies With The House” For “Engaging In An Outrageous Form Of Legislative Blackmail” With Zika Funding Bill. The Miami Herald lambasted “members of the Republican-led Congress -- especially in the House -- [that] chose to play politics with this serious public health issue rather than deal with it responsibly.” The editorial board added that, “The blame lies with the House” for “engaging in an outrageous form of legislative blackmail” with the Zika funding bill by including “irrelevant, poison-pill provisions.” From the Miami Herald:
The disclosure that Florida health officials are investigating what could be the first Zika infection from a mosquito bite in the continental United States underscores the dereliction of the do-nothing Congress that left town without lifting a finger to protect the public.
State and national health officials have been warning about it for months, and yet members of the Republican-led Congress -- especially in the House -- chose to play politics with this serious public health issue rather than deal with it responsibly.
The blame lies with the House. It approved legislation to match the Senate total, but only after engaging in an outrageous form of legislative blackmail by attaching irrelevant, poison-pill provisions that Republicans knew Democrats would never accept. In the end, the House adjourned for the summer -- the period of greatest risk for mosquito-borne infections -- without passing a clean bill to deal with Zika.
In fact, and as shameful, Congress left a long list of unfinished business before lawmakers went off to campaign for reelection and attend the political conventions: a measure to prevent terrorists from acquiring firearms, scores of judicial confirmations, a broad criminal justice reform bill, basic appropriations bills and much more. And, of course, the Supreme Court nomination the Senate refused to hear.
And yet this is the Congress that Speaker Paul Ryan boasted would be a model of legislative productivity to show that Republicans could be trusted to govern effectively. If this is what he calls success, we would hate to see what Mr. Ryan considers failure. [Miami Herald, 7/20/16]
Sun Sentinel: Republican Congress Has Done “Nothing” For Victims Of Zika. On June 30, the Sun Sentinel criticized Republicans for their “take-it-or-leave it attitude,” which prevented funding for Zika afflicted communities. The editorial board accused Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), and the Republican Congress of not taking Zika “seriously” and doing “nothing” for victims of Zika. From the Sun Sentinel editorial board:
But because Washington doesn't work, Congress adjourned this week without approving any emergency Zika money. Congress may end yet another unproductive session without taking action on Zika. Lawmakers come back Tuesday for just two weeks, then won't return until after Labor Day.
Congress responded by doing what Congress does these days: nothing. So in April, Obama shifted about $500 million from Ebola-related money to the Zika fight. Congress still did nothing.
Republicans finally packaged that $1.1 billion in Zika money with a must-pass spending bill for veterans and military construction. It's one of 12 appropriations bills Congress must pass to produce a budget by Sept. 30.
Republicans didn't stop with that take-it-or-leave it attitude toward Florida and other Zika-prone states. Using the spending bill as cover, they tried to take $543 million from the Affordable Care Act. They tried to restrict the work of Planned Parenthood. They tried to undercut a ban on flying the Confederate flag at veterans' cemeteries.
For those reasons, and because he wants more money, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, voted against the bill, which the House had passed mostly along party lines. “It's time to treat this as a real emergency,” Nelson said, “and it's time to pass the appropriations bill without all of this political agenda added to it.” [Sun Sentinel, 6/30/16]
Orlando Sentinel: “Don’t Play Politics with Zika.” In April, the Orlando Sentinel warned House Republicans not to “play politics with Zika.” They wrote that “there should be no patience with partisan brinkmanship when public health is at stake” and criticized congressional Republicans for refusing to allocate additional funds. From the Orlando Sentinel:
It's been nearly two months since Obama formally requested that Congress appropriate $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus. At the time, there were about 50 confirmed cases in the United States of the illness, which has been linked in Latin America to severe birth defects in infants whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.
Congress' GOP leaders have refused to approve that request. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. cases has climbed to more than 340, including 84 in Florida alone, the highest total of any state.
Republican leaders have insisted there's plenty of money available to fight Zika from other sources, including leftover dollars that Congress set aside in 2014 to deal with another public health threat, the Ebola virus. And when the Obama administration announced last week that it would redirect nearly $600 million from Ebola to Zika, GOP leaders such as House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers declared victory.
But Obama administration officials stressed that the Ebola transfer covers less than a third of the funds requested for Zika, and the Ebola funds would need to be replaced. Ebola has re-emerged in recent weeks in two African countries, Liberia and Guinea. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a smart or sustainable approach to fighting Zika. [Orlando Sentinel, 4/12/16]
Florida Media Highlights The Importance Of Funding Planned Parenthood In Zika Afflicted Communities
Orlando Sentinel: Republicans “Singled Out” Planned Parenthood “In The U.S. Territory Hit Hardest By Zika.” In a July 2 editorial, the Orlando Sentinel alleged that the Republican-led Congress was “so intent on striking a blow against Planned Parenthood,” that they delayed Zika funding to block the organization from receiving support for its “affiliate’s clinics in Puerto Rico … the U.S. territory hit hardest by Zika.” The editorial board argued this was a particularly galling strategy because lawmakers “singled out clinics providing family-planning services and contraceptives” when Zika is “a virus most dangerous to pregnant women and babies.” From the Orlando Sentinel:
Last month Gov. Rick Scott used his emergency executive authority to direct $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response in Florida while complaining about federal inaction on funding. “Washington has to stop playing politics with the health, safety and well being of Florida families,” he said. We couldn't agree more.
The politics in the funding bill that failed in Congress last week included a block on federal dollars for a Planned Parenthood affiliate's clinics in Puerto Rico. Think about it: The bill's drafters were so intent on striking a blow against Planned Parenthood that they singled out clinics providing family-planning services and contraceptives in the U.S. territory hit hardest by Zika, a virus most dangerous to pregnant women and babies. [Orlando Sentinel, 7/2/16]
Tampa Bay Times: Republicans “Take Aim” At Programs “That Could Prevent Sexually Transmitted Zika Cases.” In a July 12 editorial, the Tampa Bay Times accused House Republicans of using Zika funding to “take aim at their favorite targets -- Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act” instead of helping “women at high risk of contracting the virus.” The editorial board called this approach counterproductive as “those two programs provide contraceptives that could prevent sexually transmitted Zika cases.” From the Tampa Bay Times:
A deal emerged for $1.1 billion in funding, short of what Obama sought but better than nothing. Or was it? House Republicans used the bill to take aim at their favorite targets -- Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act -- and cut their funding, making the legislation unacceptable for Democrats. Never mind that those two programs provide contraceptives that could prevent sexually transmitted Zika cases and unwanted pregnancies for women at high risk of contracting the virus. [Tampa Bay Times, 7/12/16]
Miami Herald: Republicans “Barred” Planned Parenthood Funding, Despite Necessity Of “Zika-Related Reproductive Health Services.” The Miami Herald wrote that the “House-backed legislation barred” Planned Parenthood from assisting impacted communities with “reproductive health services -- even though the mosquito-borne illness can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.” They further noted that withholding funding endangered “the next phase of trials for a Zika vaccine”:
The House-backed legislation barred private family-planning organizations, including Planned Parenthood, from getting federal funds to provide Zika-related reproductive health services -- even though the mosquito-borne illness can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
The lack of funding has halted the next phase of trials for a Zika vaccine and hurt administration efforts to develop better diagnostic tools and engage in research on transmission of the virus and its effects on unborn children, said Amy Pope, a deputy homeland security advisor. [Miami Herald, 7/7/16]