“I don’t understand Republicans’ refusal to take Zika seriously. Why do they refuse to listen to the experts, who tell us they need the full $1.9 billion to be able to fight this devastating virus?”
“Now that they can no longer ignore Zika altogether, Congressional Republicans are reluctantly going through the motions of providing funding. Last week, the Senate agreed to provide only $1.1 billion – about half of President Obama’s requested Zika funding. Everyone knows that’s not going to do the trick because that money is not going to be coming until sometime this fall.”
“As President Obama said on Friday, we in Congress should not leave for the Memorial Day break without having taken care of this issue. He’s so right. Senate Democrats have been on record for weeks saying the same thing. We don’t need more time off.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today calling on Republicans to end their inaction and act to address the threat of the Zika virus before it is too late. Below are his remarks:
Last Friday, as he should, President Obama gave the nation an update on the fight against Zika, this virus that has become such a difficult issue to face.
Here are the facts, as outlined by President Obama and reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
– As we speak, there are more than 500 confirmed cases of Zika in the continental United States.
– There are at least 800 confirmed cases of infection in Puerto Rico, and most experts believe the actual number is significantly higher.
– There are 279 pregnant women in the continental United States and territories who are being monitored for a possible Zika infection.
We’ve yet to confirm any local transmission from Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the continental United States. Remember, we have had an unseasonably cold spring. That means that a mosquito with Zika has not yet infected anyone on the mainland. But the public health experts tell us that will change as we near summer and mosquito populations become active. It’s only when the warm weather hits that the mosquitoes become active, and they really become active.
These pests capable of transmitting Zika are in 39 states. Residents of our nation’s most populated cities – like New York, Los Angles, Chicago and Houston – could be at risk of infection.
This chart says it all. There are some places where there is only one type of mosquito and, of course, the worst is blue. But there are places where there is a mixture of mosquitos. There are two kinds of mosquitoes that cause a problem. It’s spread to people primarily through the body of an infected mosquito. But look where it goes. From Maine to Texas, even reaching into northern California, Las Vegas. I see one orange dot up there. That’s Boulder, Colorado.
So it’s a concern, a real concern. For pregnant women, contracting Zika could mean devastating birth defects. For others, the dangers of Zika range from possible nervous system disorders and potential paralysis to minor symptoms like rashes and fever.
This is the threat that Republicans in Congress have been ignoring for months.
Back in February, President Obama sent an emergency appropriations request to Congress for $1.9 billion to fight Zika. $1.9 billion was the exact figure, it wasn’t some number he picked out of a hat. This is a figure that researchers, public health experts, and doctors explicitly requested. $1.9 billion is what our country needs. That’s the number that I support and Democrats support. Anything less than $1.9 billion is simply not enough.
The Republicans did nothing in response to the President’s request, letting weeks and weeks go by as the number of infected Americans grew. Because of Republicans’ refusal to allocate Zika funding, President Obama had to act. He did the only thing he could do – he used $510 million in Ebola money to fight the spread of Zika.
It was 18 months ago that we were first hit with the Ebola scare. It was a scare, and rightfully so. We were panicked about Ebola. Americans had been infected with this awful disease. But the only thing we could do was find out how we could stop it with a vaccine, with other treatments. It takes money to do that. But to take more than half a billion dollars in Ebola money and fight the spread of Zika taking from Peter to pay Paul. What choice did President Obama have? Republicans were ignoring his pleas for help.
Now that they can no longer ignore Zika altogether, Congressional Republicans are reluctantly going through the motions of providing funding. Last week, the Senate agreed to provide only $1.1 billion – about half of President Obama’s requested Zika funding. Everyone knows that’s not going to do the trick because that money is not going to be coming until sometime this fall.
To make matters worse, the Senate-passed $1.1 billion Zika package would do almost nothing to pay back the Ebola money the administration had to reprogram for Zika. It would pay back just a tiny fraction of the $510 million in Ebola funds used.
The Senate’s $1.1 billion in funding is also wrapped up in the appropriations process. Appropriations bills can take months to get done and sent to President Obama’s desk. By that time, it will be fall and the damage from Zika will already be done.
The American people should not have to wait that long.
That’s why Senate Democrats have repeatedly come to the floor and asked for unanimous consent to vote on Zika funding packages as standalone bills – separate from the appropriations process. But each time Republican leadership has objected.
Senate Republicans don’t want to expedite this issue. They would prefer that our response to Zika is wrapped up in a drawn out appropriations process. But our nation cannot afford that unnecessary delay.
House Republicans could not even pass a budget, and now we are depending on them to pass an appropriations bill before we do anything about Zika? These are the same House Republicans who last week passed legislation to give President Obama just a third of the Zika funding he requested – $622 million.
And guess where House Republicans are going to get that money? They are going to take it by further raiding the funds we continue to need to fight Ebola. Our nation has spent the last two years fighting Ebola. And although we have been successful in responding to Ebola, it remains a threat.
Last week, the White House reported that CDC officials in West Africa are processing 10,000 new Ebola samples a month. We cannot afford to drop our guard on Ebola. That’s just what the Republicans are telling us to do. If we take these funds away from our nation’s response to the Ebola virus and use them instead to underfund our response to Zika, we are ensuring that our defenses against both Ebola and Zika are inadequate. That’s irresponsible and terribly dangerous.
I don’t understand Republicans’ refusal to take Zika seriously. Why do they refuse to listen to the experts, who tell us they need the full $1.9 billion to be able to fight this devastating virus?
It’s as if Republicans are betting that Zika won’t be a disaster. It’s as if they are betting against all the experts at the CDC and NIH who say the Zika virus is a real threat to Americans. This is not a bet. Experts are saying it’s a real threat to Americans because it is.
Instead of gambling with the health and safety of millions of Americans, Republicans should give our nation the money it needs to fight Zika, and they should do it now. Not next month, not in the fall – now.
As President Obama said on Friday, we in Congress should not leave for the Memorial Day break without having taken care of this issue. He’s so right. Senate Democrats have been on record for weeks saying the same thing. We don’t need more time off. We already hold the record – this Senate is working less time than any Congress in the last six or seven decades. Rather than taking some time off, let’s get the legislation to the White House.
We still have time to get out ahead of the spread of Zika, but that window is rapidly closing by the day. So let’s work together now – Republican and Democrats – to give our nation the tools it needs to keep the American people safe from the Zika virus. Right now, we’re not safe.