Reid: Republicans Using Zika Crisis To Push Radical Agenda

“In spite of all the evidence that Zika is harming the American people, Republicans pushing of a conference report is nothing more than a goody bag for the fringes of the Republican Party … This conference report is disgraceful. It’s shameful to use a real-life public health crisis to push the radical Republican agenda.”

“On the conference committee, the Democrats were locked out of negotiations. Then Republicans jammed through this bill … in the middle of the night.”

“Republicans need to get serious about sending President Obama the full $1.9 billion that doctors, researchers, nurses, public health experts say is needed to fight Zika. Every moment Republicans delay, there are other cases of Zika on innocent women which affects their children more than one can imagine.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senator floor today calling on Republicans to stop playing partisan politics and to get serious about passing legislation to deal with the Zika health crisis. Below are his remarks:

I don’t know what planet my friend, the Republican leader, is living on. This conference report is the most irresponsible legislation I have ever seen in my 34 years in Congress. That says a lot. I can’t think of anything that’s close.

This Zika threat is real. It’s serious. Every day more and more Americans are being infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control, right now today 2,900 Americans have already contracted Zika. Seven-hundred just last week alone added to that total. It was 2,200. Now it’s 2,900 in one week.

Four-hundred and eighty-one pregnant women have tested positive for the virus in the United States. Eight pregnancies in the U.S. have resulted in severe birth defects because of Zika. When we talk about severe birth defects, we mean it. Little shrunken heads. Their skulls caved in. Mosquitoes have caused problems forever, but never welcome birth defects.

But in spite of all the evidence that Zika is harming the American people, Republicans pushing of a conference report is nothing more than a goody bag for the fringes of the Republican Party.

In April, very recently, the Republican leader told reporters: “We’re all very much aware that this is a serious crisis. We’ll be working with the administration, with the Democrats.”

That simply hasn’t proven to be true. On the conference committee, the Democrats were locked out of negotiations. Then Republicans jammed through this bill –  when I say in the middle of the night, it was in the middle of the night. It was during the time when they had the sit-in on the house floor. Chaos was there. There was no debate, no discussion.

The Republican conference report shortchanged the president’s request by $800 million. It took another $100 million from the Ebola funds which are badly needed. All you have to talk to anyone at NIH or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they’ll tell you – Ebola is not gone.

I don’t know if Republicans sat in a room and said, ”Let’s do everything we can just to hit every constituency group the American people like,” but that’s what they did.

How about women’s health? The Republican conference report restricts funding for birth control provided by Planned Parenthood. My friend says they can go someplace else for it. In America today, a huge segment of the American people, this is the only place they can go for help.

Women need Planned Parenthood, and what do Republicans do? Because of their fixation on doing everything they can to hurt Planned Parenthood, they do these phony television interviews. They have fake cameras. The courts have decided it was wrong, what they did. They have been sued. But that’s okay. Republicans still say, “Anything we can do to whack Planned Parenthood, we’re going to do it,” and they tried it here.

How about anti-Obamacare? Republicans have tried to revoke it almost 70 times. Didn’t work. So what they did, they just rescind $543 million and stuck it in this conference report. I guess that was just to get the President’s attention. Of course he’s going to veto this, but maybe they wanted to make sure that he would have something really substantive to do it with.

How about anti-environment? Remember, what we’re trying to do, in addition to all the things we have talked about, we want to make sure there is a way of getting rid of these pests, these mosquitoes. How do we do that? The only way we found that was really, really effective was with spraying. Kill these insects.

Well, so what they do, the Republicans, they exempt pesticide spraying from the clean water act. Why? Just because they don’t like the EPA and they don’t like the Clean Water Act that’s been around for 60 years. They just don’t like it.

How about veterans?  Republicans know Democrats have a big constituency with veterans. Why not whack them? Okay, so they said, “What we’ll do is we’ll take $500 million from veterans’ health. That should get the Democrats’ attention.”

Republicans couldn’t stop themselves from coming up with every idea. I guess they were waiting around thinking of anything else that would just be really good to do? They said, “Why don’t we rescind the order that’s in effect saying you can’t fly the confederate flag on military cemeteries? Great idea. Okay. I’m glad you came up with that. We’re going to stick that in there, too.”

In this conference report, the Republicans stuck in a prohibition of the legislation that says you can’t fly a confederate flag on a military cemetery. Under Republicans’ legislation, you can go ahead and do it.

This conference report is disgraceful.  It’s shameful to use a real-life public health crisis to push the radical Republican agenda.

There is a point of order against the bill also. We could raise that. Republicans were eager to inject politics in this legislation. They even rescinded funds for the affordable care act, making their own bill rescindable.

For these and other reasons, we’re going to vote against cloture.

But it’s not just Democrats saying this bill is a disaster. I ask consent to be able to put in the record a letter from 40 health care groups, public health groups – organizations like the March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How about Easter Seals and the American Public Health Association, and 33 more?

These organizations are blasting this Republican conference. They’re doing it because they want real legislation to fund Zika. They call on Congress to pass a bill that:

  • “Provides appropriate funding levels for all aspects of Zika response, including contraception for women who wish to avoid pregnancy, and to prevent the sexual transmission of Zika;
  • “Does not draw funds from other important public health priorities, including Ebola efforts;
  • “Does not place unreasonable restrictions on Zika funding, which would hinder the ability of agencies to respond to the virus given that its course is unpredictable;
  • “Lays a foundation with FY2016 funding that can be built upon responsibly in subsequent fiscal years, since Zika will be a long-term challenge; and
  • “Is capable of garnering bipartisan support.”

The letter goes on to say:

“The fact that it is already almost July and Congress has failed to act would seem to reflect an appalling indifference to the lives of infants and their families.”

This is not Democrats saying this. These are these public health organizations. They’re aghast at what the Republicans are doing.

But instead of accepting the bill, it’s a failure that’s going nowhere. Republicans are making these threats. Yesterday the assistant Republican leader came here and said Republicans are going to ban the Zika funding negotiations after this vote.

That Republicans are on pace to work fewest days that the Senate has worked in more than 60 years. Sixty years ago the country was much, much smaller, a lot fewer people here, a lot less business, but even with that, we’re working less than they did 60 years ago. In two weeks the Senate plans to leave Washington for seven weeks which is the longest summer recess since we can remember.

Is it too much to ask Republicans to work until we have done our job and giving states and territories the resources they need to fight Zika and protect women? Public health organizations don’t think so and we don’t either.

Republicans need to get serious about sending President Obama the full $1.9 billion that doctors, researchers, nurses, public health experts say is needed to fight Zika. Every moment Republicans delay, there are other cases of Zika on innocent women which affects their children more than one can imagine.