Tiny mosquitoes of the genus Aedes aegypti are helping to demonstrate why Congress so richly deserves its 11 percent public approval rating.
Aedes mosquitoes carry the Zika virus, which is believed to cause serious abnormalities in fetuses and may cause debilitating nerve disorders in children and adults. In February, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the disease. Congress still hasn't acted. Given its vacation schedule, it may not act until this fall.
It was cold in February and mosquitoes weren't a problem. But now we're entering prime mosquito season, particularly in southern states, and Congress still can't be bothered. In mosquito-dense Florida, even conservative, anti-big-government Republican Gov. Rick Scott is pleading for help.
"Despite repeated calls for action, Congress has failed to act, and now they are on vacation," Scott said in a letter to the president last week, adding, "Florida needs action from the federal government now."
On the White House Zika virus webpage, there's a map that shows how and when scientists expect Aedes mosquitoes to spread. Last month there was almost no risk to Missouri and Illinois. This month the risk is low to moderate. By July it will be moderate to high.
It sure would have been good to confront this back in February. "Three months in an epidemic is an eternity," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters last month.
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt finds himself at the center of the Zika funding storm. He is chairman of the Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies, which handles health agency budgets. With Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Blunt crafted a $1.1 billion emergency spending amendment that the Senate agreed last month to attach to two pending appropriations bills.
It's less than the president wanted, the difference being mostly his desire to restore the $600 million that he diverted in April from Ebola-fighting efforts to Zika. Frieden said the CDC could get the Zika job done with $1.1 billion, but he desperately needs the Ebola money restored. Lurching from crisis to crisis is not good public health policy, particularly when policy decisions are compromised by election year politics.
Over in the House, Republican leaders have approved spending only $622 million to fight Zika. They insist that the money be offset with cuts to other programs. Anything more than $622 million would wind up as a presidential "slush fund," they say.
This is what happens when a party that is skeptical of science is put in charge of science funding. If the Aedes mosquitoes do the job that health experts expect them to do, Americans should use the fall election to fire the members of Congress who fail at what voters expect them to do.
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