Like many Kentuckians, I am concerned about the growing threat of Zika virus in this country. As we head deeper into the summer, infected mosquitos are expected to transmit and spread the virus throughout the southern United States, including potentially Kentucky.
Anyone can contract this mosquito-borne illness, but it is especially troubling for expectant mothers and their babies.
That’s why it’s shocking that Senate Democrats blocked Congress from passing legislation that would have marshaled immediate federal funds to fight the Zika virus. They blocked anti-Zika funds and prevention efforts, not once but twice. It’s unbelievable, but true.
As Senate majority leader, I led the Senate to pass legislation in May providing $1.1 billion in funds to combat Zika. The measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and Senate Democrats unanimously voted yes.
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House and Senate negotiators met and produced legislation that met the full funding level passed by the Senate. But when it came time for a vote on the final, House-passed measure to help send the legislation to the president’s desk, Democrats balked.
They voted against legislation dedicating the same $1.1 billion in federal funds that they had previously supported. They voted against legislation focusing on public-health resources and mosquito control. And they voted against legislation providing funding resources to develop a vaccine.
Thousands of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have already been diagnosed with the virus. Hundreds of Americans also suffer from the virus, most of them due to recent travel to affected areas, but the number of cases in the U.S. continues to grow and we could potentially see an outbreak in this country.
It’s been shown that pregnant women who contract Zika can give birth to children suffering from serious brain defects like microcephaly, causing their babies to have unusually small heads and brains. This condition lasts a lifetime. Everyone, especially pregnant women, wants to see our country do all it can to stop the spread of this fearful virus.
That’s why it’s so irresponsible of Senate Democrats to continue to block the passage of $1.1 billion in federal funds that would immediately go toward disease prevention, mosquito control efforts and the search for a vaccine.
Until they decide to take responsible action and approve new Zika funds, I urge the Obama administration in the interim to aggressively use funds already available to strengthen our defense against the virus. As of July 2016, hundreds of millions of dollars in funds available immediately to prepare for and combat Zika were seemingly unspent.
Democrats continue to make a lot of excuses for their vote, but it seems apparent they’re answering to the beck and call of a third-party interest group — Planned Parenthood. The common-sense bill that Senate Republicans proposed does not prohibit funding or deny access for birth control.
In fact, it would expand access to women’s health care through Medicaid, community health centers, public health departments and hospitals rather than earmarking those resources to one controversial interest group.
Republicans believe Zika is a crisis and one that demands immediate action. Democrats believe it’s something to play politics over. Kentuckians, especially pregnant mothers, are rightfully appalled.
As soon as the Senate reconvenes, Democrats will have a third opportunity to vote to advance legislation funding a response to the Zika crisis. The Senate majority stands ready to vote yes with them and to send the measure to the president’s desk. Congress must not fail the American people in this very real public health crisis.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator, serves as Senate majority leader.