Senate Passes Bipartisan Emergency Response Co-Authored By Leahy, For The Emerging Zika Crisis

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, May 19, 2016) – In a vote of 68 to 30, the Senate Thursday afternoon approved an emergency appropriation to combat the ongoing Zika crisis.  The bipartisan compromise, co-authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., broke a legislative stalemate that has delayed Senate action on the Zika threat for three and a half months.   

Most of the $1.1 billion in emergency funding in the Senate bill would be used to counter Zika in the United States.  A portion, $258 million, will be used to combat Zika at its source, in Latin America and the Caribbean.  This portion of the funding will also help support the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization in their anti-Zika efforts, and it will provide medical support for U.S. citizens and U.S. government employees stationed overseas.

Leahy said:  “Even if these virus-infected mosquitos didn’t reach the United States mainland – and they will – the outbreaks south of our shores already pose public health risks to Americans, and most tragically, to pregnant women and their children.  Zika already is only a plane flight away from our communities.”

Leahy brokered the compromise Zika plan with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.  All are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The bill next must be conferenced with a House bill that falls far short of the Senate’s anti-Zika remedies.

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[BELOW: Leahy’s Senate Floor remarks on the Zika funding amendment.]

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On Supplemental Funding to Combat the Zika Virus
U.S. Senate Floor
May 17, 2016

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I want to speak in support of the Blunt-Murray-Graham-Leahy amendment, which provides $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

The map of the United States beside me beside me shows the Centers for Disease Control’s estimate of the range of the two types of mosquito that may spread Zika.  As you can see, this public health emergency is not in some far-off land.  It could easily end up in the backyards of tens of millions of Americans.

Before I discuss the pending bill I want to mention that earlier this afternoon I voted for the Nelson-Rubio Zika supplemental, which would have provided the full $1.9 billion requested by the President months ago.  It is mystifying to me that Republicans voted to defeat that amendment, considering that Zika is spreading faster and in more ways than predicted when the President first requested those funds.

The excuse we have heard for months, particularly from House Republican leaders, is that they don’t have enough information about the proposed uses of the funds.  Have they bothered to attend any of the briefings, or if briefings weren’t enough, to pick up the phone and call the head of the CDC, or the director of the National Institute of Health, or any of the other experts who have been sounding alarm bells since last year?

In a little over a year the Zika virus has spread from Brazil to almost every country and territory in this hemisphere.  There is no question that it is spreading faster and is more dangerous than was anticipated just a few months ago. 

As this map shows, more than half the continental United States – including my own State of Vermont – is now projected to be within the range of Zika carrying mosquitos.  The virus can have devastating consequences for many of those who become infected, particularly children.  We need to act, and if there is one area where politicians should not second guess the medical experts, it is how to respond to public health emergencies.

So what did the House of Representatives do?  First, they don’t treat the Zika crisis as an emergency, even though it has spread to 36 countries and territories in this hemisphere and has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization.  The House bill, introduced yesterday, would cut the amount requested by more than two-thirds, rob from other programs like the funds to combat Ebola, and limit the availability of Zika funds to the remaining four months of this fiscal year.

More than half a billion dollars in Ebola funds have already been reprogrammed to combat Zika, because it would have been irresponsible for the Administration to wait any longer while Congress failed to act as the mosquitoes came north.  But Ebola remains a deadly threat.  Cases of Ebola continue to be confirmed in West Africa, and we have seen how one Ebola case today can become a dozen cases tomorrow and a hundred cases the next day.  How quickly people here forget the fear that gripped this country after a single Ebola-related death in Texas two years ago.  The funds we appropriated to combat Ebola are being put to good use, including to strengthen the capacity of African countries to respond to future outbreaks of Ebola or something even worse.

The emergency funding in this bill includes $258 million for the Department of State and USAID to combat Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean.  These funds will support efforts to control the spread of Zika and other insect-borne diseases, including to protect maternal health, expand public education on prevention, and encourage private sector research for the development of vaccines and diagnostics.  These funds will provide contributions to international organizations, including the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, to reduce the impact of the disease on infants and their families, and accelerate diagnosis.

Funds are also included for Department of State and USAID operations to implement programs in the field, and provide medical support for U.S. citizens, State Department, USAID, and other Federal government employees stationed overseas.  If the Zika virus is not controlled in Latin America and the Caribbean, a year from now it will likely be worse than projected and more costly to control.  And if we continue to rob Ebola funds, which are being used for the purposes Congress intended, we simply shift the risk from one life-threatening disease to another.  That makes no sense at all.

If there is one thing on which Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, should agree it is doing whatever is necessary to protect the American people from dangerous, contagious diseases.  It is past time for us to act and I urge all Senators to support the Blunt-Murray-Graham-Leahy amendment.

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