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Congress goes home for July 4 holiday after reaching yet another impasse on Zika virus


Congress took a break for the July 4 holiday after reaching another impasse on funding to combat the Zika virus that has caused birth defects in Mexico and the Caribbean.

“Senate Democrats on Tuesday shot down a House-passed bill that would have provided $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus, citing opposition to the measure’s changes in pesticide regulations and restrictions on money for birth control,” Fox News reports. The bill would also “rob Obamacare of funding, impose new restrictions on Planned Parenthood and provide some $800 million less than the Obama administration is seeking,” Politico reports, and “allow the Confederate flag to fly at veterans’ cemeteries.”

“In the short term, Democrats are more open to criticism: After clamoring for new Zika funding for months, they are set to vote against a bill at funding levels they’ve already agreed to,” Politico notes. “But given the history on legislative impasses, Democrats are betting that the majority party will be held responsible by voters.”

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Republicans remained firm. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “suggested that, barring a sudden deal, there may be no vote until the upper chamber returns in September.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada “pressed for negotiations to resume and bemoaned that both parties agreed in May to a $1.1 billion Zika bill, only for House Speaker Paul Ryan to make changes,” Fox reports. “Reid argues those changes appeased the chamber’s conservative conference, but resulted in an unacceptable piece of legislation.”

President Obama asked for $1.9 billion for Zika in February. “The Republicans controlling Congress instead forced the administration to redirect more than $500 million in unspent Ebola-fighting funds to combat Zika,” Fox notes. After the House passed a bill with less than a third of the money Obama wanted, Republicans in the House and Senate agreed on a $1.1 billion plan with the added provisions and spending cuts to pay for it.

“Democrats particularly opposed a provision that restricts the use of $95 million worth of federal grants to provide services such as birth control to women in Puerto Rico threatened by the virus. Democrats charged that the restrictions were targeted at clinic on the island run by Planned Parenthood, a group loathed by many anti-abortion Republicans,” Fox reports. “In addition to the limits on Planned Parenthood, the bill would temporarily lift Clean Water Act permitting requirements on pesticide spraying for municipalities and other large-scale users.”

A lobbyist for the March of Dimes, which advocates for maternal and fetal health, told Politico that the Republican bill was “doomed from the start.” Cindy Pellegrini continued, “We have a hard time imagining an issue that could be more of an emergency than an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes that destroys babies’ brains in utero. The package looked like it was not designed to be successful and that was deeply troubling for us.”

Obama said Friday that a Zika vaccine could be developed in “fairly short order” once Congress enacts the funding. University of Kentucky researchers are among those working on that.

From Kentucky Health News


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