U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer today called on Congress to suspend its’ recess and come back to Washington to pass a $1.9 billion emergency bill to help fight Zika – the mosquito-carried illness causing birth defects in newborns.
But Republican Congressman Dan Donovan (Southern Brooklyn/Staten Island) responded there is no need to go back to Washington because President Obama has plenty of money left over from Ebola funding to pay for continued research for a Zika vaccine.
The latest partisan salvo comes as Congress has been battling over several bills to fight the disease. This includes a Senate measure, Bill S.2843, that never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and a June House bill H.R.2577 to fund Zika research and response at the previously agreed-upon $1.1 billion level, but that Senate Democrats killed because of add ons including the cutting of Planned Parenthood funding.
Schumer’s latest call for everyone to come back to the nation’s capital to debate the issue comes as phase one of Zika vaccine trials began this week, and he says without federal funding the next phases of vaccine clinical trials will cease.
“With clinical trials to beat Zika underway, we have a real shot at a vaccine, but unfortunately a Congress that went on recess rather than approve emergency funding is about to pull the plug on this Zika vaccine effort,” said Schumer. “Simply put, if Congress does not go back to Washington to pass this emergency funding package, we will regret it. This emergency funding package is an investment because the cost of doing nothing—which is what we are doing right now while Congress is on recess—will cost us even more in both dollars and in health consequences.”
Schumer spokesperson Marisa Kaufman said instead of Congress passing a $1.1 billion compromise bill before adjourning for the summer, Republicans loaded up the bill with partisan, poison pill riders.
“The $1.1 billion bill that Republicans put forth would not have stemmed the tide of pregnant women catching Zika in Puerto Rico and it would not have stopped Zika from getting a foothold in Florida and the South and heading north,” she said.
Donovan agreed that Zika is a health crisis that could mushroom quickly if immediate action is not taken, but said it is now up to Obama to act on it.
“The Obama Administration has an additional $2 billion in available Ebola funds that it could redirect to combat Zika, but it has not done so. Since Senate Democrats blocked a Zika funding bill hours before leaving town, the Obama Administration should immediately reallocate some Ebola funds to ensure vaccine development is not delayed,” said Donovan.
More than 850 pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories have Zika. According to the New York Health Department, there are 406 cases of Zika virus in New York City, 83 of those in Brooklyn. None of those cases in New York have been found to be acquired locally from mosquitos, 387 of them are travel associated and four are sexually transmitted.
The DOH is warning New Yorkers who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant to not travel to Zika-affected areas, including Wynwood, a neighborhood in Miami, FL, where there have been 15 locally transmitted infections.
In addition, the city is spraying for mosquitos to help prevent the spread of Zika.