PRICE FLOOR REMARKS CALLING FOR EMERGENCY ZIKA FUNDING
Mr. Speaker, we often hear from our constituents who are frustrated by Congress’s failure to act on many of the most pressing issues facing our country. Seven weeks ago, as if we were determined to confirm this indictment, Congress adjourned for summer “recess” with a long list of critical unfinished business.
We came nowhere near finishing our appropriations bills, leaving open the question whether we can even keep our government open past September 30th. We failed to pass the most rudimentary gun violence measures, leaving the tragedies of San Bernardino and Orlando unaddressed.
And then there was Zika, perhaps the most incredible failure of all. With an epidemic bearing down on us, an epidemic with disastrous human consequences, but with a prescribed course of action that could do so much to prevent and mitigate the catastrophe – still, Congress refused to act.
Now we are back in session, facing daily headlines about the dangers posed by Zika. The number of Zika travel-related cases in the continental US is increasing, the number of pregnant women infected with Zika is growing, and the number of babies being born (or worse, lost) with microcephaly or other Zika-related complications is rising. Increasing numbers of mosquito-borne cases have been reported in Puerto Rico and south Florida, and I learned this week that 5 service members and retirees from Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, are being treated for Zika.
It has been more than six months since the President requested an emergency supplemental appropriation of $1.9 billion from Congress to fund Zika preparedness, response and prevention, as well as critical research. The request was carefully and comprehensively documented and justified.
In the meantime, our local, state and federal public health agencies and authorities have continued to shift funds and reorder priorities in an attempt to get a handle on this public health emergency. Indeed, our own universities and other research institutions have been shifting money around for months, as I learned at a conference I helped organize in North Carolina on June 7th.
Researchers testified there as to the great promise of the work they are doing, but also as to the great efforts they have been required to make, in the face of inadequate and uncertain funding, to ensure that the work continues. I left that conference impressed and encouraged by the work that was going on. I also left chagrined and angered at the way Congress –under Republican leadership, with no serious attempt at bipartisan cooperation – is letting these dedicated researchers and the entire country down.
The House and Senate Republican conference report contains only $1.1 billion of the requested funds. But the larger problem is that it robs other critical public health priorities—notably Ebola, but also disaster preparedness—in order to satisfy Republican budget ideologues.
Adding insult to injury, the Republican conference report also includes several misguided and dangerous policy riders. These poison pills would severely limit access to contraceptives in Puerto Rico, where thousands of cases of Zika virus have been recorded, would take yet another shot at Planned Parenthood, and would roll back certain clean water regulations, ostensibly to allow for the increased spraying of pesticides.
I recently met with Director Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases who explained the incredible lengths that NIH and CDC have gone to in order to protect the health of the American people. They have desperately cobbled together a budget, most recently taking money from vital research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other diseases. Despite such extraordinary efforts, the CDC and NIH will run out of money after October 1st.
Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that we honor the President’s request of $1.9 billion in a bill free of destructive offsets and ideological riders. It is crucial that Congress take action for the pregnant women in their first trimesters who are scared to leave their homes; for the children born with a range of disabilities of which microcephaly is only the worst; for the servicemen and women stationed across the globe, who are at particular risk; and for the 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s population who will potentially contract this disease.
We can and we must, as a country, do better than this. Let’s do the right thing for our constituents, our country, and the rest of the world by finally funding this public health emergency. We have long since run out of excuses. We can wait no longer.