Republicans choose poison pills over Zika virus prevention

The Zika virus is a very scary thing indeed, and it is on the march here in America.

As of June 22, 820 cases have been reported in U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and another 1,860 cases have been reported in U.S. territories.

In February, President Obama requested $1.9 billion from Congress to fund Zika virus prevention. Congressional Republicans have responded with a bill that provides $1.1 billion in funding plus $622 million in reallocated funds.

It’s not everything President Obama asked for, but under ordinary circumstances he’d probably be eager to sign it. But he can’t sign this bill.

Why? Because Republicans have loaded the bill with a GOP wish list of exemptions from the Clean Water Act. Emergency pesticide use in cases like stopping the Zika virus is already exempt from these Clean Water Act regulations, but Republicans are counting on voters not to make such a fine distinction and just deregulate pesticide use in general. This bill also includes language prohibiting taxpayer funding for abortion (because the Zika virus causes birth defects), but the Hyde Amendment already prohibits that to begin with.

Republicans want to force President Obama to veto the bill so it looks like he doesn’t care about stopping the Zika virus — even though he asked for this funding back in February. It’s a poison pill: burying deal-breaker language in a piece of seemingly uncontroversial legislation just to embarrass your political opponents when they can’t support it, and it’s a tactic that both sides use all the time.

Since both sides agree that the funding is necessary, the games that politicians on Capitol Hill are playing with this legislation are wasting valuable time in the eyes of the people whose job it is to actually prevent the disease.

This is no way to fight an epidemic…Three months is an eternity for control of an outbreak. There is a narrow window of opportunity here, and it’s closing. Every day that passes makes it harder to stop Zika.”

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, May 2016

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