Congress Balks at Emergency Funding for Zika Response

A gloved hand holds a blood sample marked "Zika."

Image: Shutterstock

The Zika virus is spread by mosquitos, and it’s been raging through Brazil for months now. It has spread to both Puerto Rico with about 160 cases, and to the mainland United States with 193 cases, including six of which were spread through sexual contact. That virus doesn’t pose much of a threat to adults, and generally results in a week or so of rashes, joint pain, and the like, but it can have a devastating effect on unborn children.

The virus has been linked to a variety of birth defects, such as microcephaly, which results in children being born with undersized heads and underdeveloped brains. It can lead to a number of other fetal anomalies that can impact children at birth and lead to further complications later in life.

The CDC is hard at work on a vaccine, but progress on that front is slow, partially due to budget issues. President Obama and the CDC have asked for $1.9 billion in additional, emergency funding to move against the virus before summer hits and mosquitos start biting people in the continental United States. But so far, Congress has refused that funding. Republicans claim that there is still $2.7 billion in unallocated funds that were designated for Ebola that they could use, but chances are the CDC is aware of those funds and would be using them if possible.

Considering that this emergency comes during a hard fought, vitriolic presidential primary season, and Republicans in the Senate have already vowed to not do their jobs and vote on President Obama’s recent Supreme Court Justice nomination, it’s entirely possible, probable even, that Congressional Republicans are trying to use this as a club against the President.

It’s a club that will result in a rise in infant mortality, in birth defects, and in medical costs for children who survive.

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