The current debate over Zika funding misses the point entirely. While the states have real concerns about its spread and the senators have real differences about how to fund it, what is missing is an honest discussion of whether the federal government has a responsibility to prevent and treat disease.
For the record, Zika fever is a terrible malady. It is spread by mosquitos that are active during daytime.
While the person with the illness may be relatively free of symptoms, babies born to mothers with the Zika virus are likely to be born with severe brain malformations.
The Zika virus has spread widely in the Caribbean and as of August 31 the Center Disease Control reports nearly 3,000 cases in the United States.
In this May 23, 2016, file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito sits inside a glass tube at the Fiocruz institute where they have been screening for mosquitos naturally infected with the Zika virus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
President Barack Obama asked Congress for a special appropriation of $1.9 billion to help states and communities deal with Zika.
I don’t know what will be done with that money. I don’t know why the states and communities cannot treat the Zika virus like they have treated any number of other illnesses.
Unfortunately, for the last 50 years we have been conditioned to look to the federal government at the first hint of financial difficulty and ask for other people’s money to confront it.
Some noted that hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated for the last urgent threat, Ebola, remained unspent and could be reprogrammed for Zika.
The Obama administration agreed, but two-thirds of that remains unspent. With $400 million currently in the pipeline Congress would like to know why more is needed now.
In addition to that money the U.S. House approved an additional $622 million. When that bill arrived on the floor of the senate the Democrats kept it from being debated with a filibuster.
That gave the Democrats the entire summer to blame Republicans for failing to fund efforts to protect pregnant women and babies.
When Congress returned after Labor Day Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell immediately brought up a $1.1 billon Zika funding bill for consideration. The Democrats, for the third time this year, filibustered the bill to prevent its consideration.
They had their reasons. Republicans attempted to pay for the bill with more than half a billion dollars from a defunct Obamacare fund and more than $200 million from other unspent federal funds.
Democrats took that as an attack on Obamacare and demanded that Zika be funded with new debt.
Democrats also opposed the bill because it prevented funding for Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico and they opposed language in the bill that that would allow spraying for mosquitos near water, which is banned under the Clean Water Act.
At the risk of sounding remedial I should like to point out that mosquitos breed in wet areas. If you preclude killing mosquitos where they multiply what’s the point in fighting the virus?
But Planned Parenthood supporters and environmentalists provide much more money for Democrat campaigns than do pregnant mothers so their interests carried the day.
This all makes for fun stories about good guys and bad guys, but what is lost in the back and forth is a real debate over whether the federal government should be funding any of this.
There are “tornado alleys” across the upper Midwest where I grew up. During my last year in dental school Minneapolis had a night with about 20 tornados that did serious damage including in the neighborhood where we lived.
The following week neighbors helped neighbors get back on their feet. I don’t recall anyone demanding that President Johnson pony up with other people’s money.
I thought of those tornados when the media had a field day blaming President Bush for not doing enough after Katrina.
Why should people in Minneapolis be taxed to repair damage in New Orleans? Nobody showed up for them.
Unfortunately, it is now axiomatic that destruction is a federal event and taxpayers are expected to pay the bill.
After the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands, the New York Congressional delegation immediately introduced a bill to reimburse each victim’s family.
Eleven days after the attacks Congress created the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund that ultimately compensated each family an average of $2,083,000.
The Oklahoma delegation insisted on equal treatment for the families of the 168 people killed when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. They did not succeed and remain offended that all deaths are not treated equally.
I appreciate the problems state and local governments have facing unique challenges such as Zika. I don’t understand why they feel that they have a claim on our money.
I see a real risk in turning every difficulty over to a handful of Congressional leaders to determine who is worthy and who is not.
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