Reed & Whitehouse: Congress Must Reconvene to Pass Emergency Zika Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined
other Senate Democrats in writing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and
House Speaker Paul Ryan, urging them to immediately call Congress back into session
to pass emergency funding legislation to address the growing Zika crisis.

In the letter, the Senators note that «In the continental United States, what public
health officials warned for months was imminent is now a reality: Zika is spreading
here. In Florida, 15 individuals – that we know of – have been infected by mosquito
bites while residing in the state. According to an estimate cited by CDC Director
Dr. Tom Frieden, the cost of treating a single case of microcephaly in a newborn
could be as high as $10 million over a lifetime. At present, more than 850 pregnant
women in the U.S. and its territories have Zika.»

There have been more than 1,600 confirmed Zika cases in the United States linked to
international travel, including 21 cases in Rhode Island. On Tuesday, Reed and
Whitehouse joined the rest of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation in
announcing $200,000 in federal funding to help mitigate the risks of the virus in
Rhode Island as part of a grant initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention to help cities and states across the country take action to protect
themselves.

The full text of the letter is below:

August 4, 2016

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader, U.S. Senate
The Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20004

The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
The Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan:

The problems the American people confront do not disappear simply because Congress
does. In the case of the rapidly expanding Zika crisis, the problem has grown
significantly worse since the Republican-led Congress went on recess. We urge you to
immediately cancel the remainder of the congressional recess and get back to work to
help the American public, especially women and families, amidst this crisis.

In Puerto Rico, the Zika virus is now expanding at an accelerating rate, according
to public health officials. Each day, thousands of residents, including up to 50
pregnant women, are infected. According to the latest data from the Centers from
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are now nearly 5,500 confirmed
infections in Puerto Rico, with likely many times that number of unconfirmed cases.
Zika could impact as many as 10,000 pregnancies by the end of the year. Experts fear
a generation of children born with severe birth defects, such as microcephaly,
caused by Zika.

In the continental United States, what public health officials warned for months was
imminent is now a reality: Zika is spreading here. In Florida, 15 individuals – that
we know of – have been infected by mosquito bites while residing in the state.
According to an estimate cited by CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, the cost of treating
a single case of microcephaly in a newborn could be as high as $10 million over a
lifetime. At present, more than 850 pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories
have Zika.

While the Zika crisis grows, the Republican-led Congress has done nothing on
funding. It has been 164 days since the President requested emergency funding to
fight Zika. The combined time it took Congress to fund all of the last three public
health emergencies – Ebola, H1N1 and Avian flu – was 137 days. The National
Institutes of Health has said trials for a Zika vaccine will likely be delayed due
to lack of funding. It is deeply troubling that the Zika epidemic which
disproportionately impacts pregnant women and their babies would be treated any
differently than these other emergencies. In each of these instances, Congress was
able to set aside political rhetoric and act quickly to help. Unfortunately, we have
seen no such action on Zika for pregnant women and families.

As you know, Congress left for the August recess after House Republicans killed a
bipartisan compromise bill that received 89 votes in the Senate. Republican
leadership acquiesced to their extreme right-wing Members, who demanded poison pill
special-interest priorities that weakened clean water rules, supported the
Confederate flag and limited access to family planning services by once again
attacking Planned Parenthood.

The World Health Organization, the American Congress of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, and the CDC have
all called for greater access to birth control in Zika-impacted countries. Planned
Parenthood affiliated clinics in Puerto Rico offered contraceptive services to
88,000 women and men last year, almost half of which went to those under 25 years
old. Family planning services and access to contraception are primary tools to help
combat Zika. By preventing these clinics from helping women at risk of contracting
Zika, Republicans are limiting protection for Puerto Rican women in order to score
cheap political points on women’s health.

It is simply unacceptable that efforts to counter the spread of Zika and develop a
vaccine are being held hostage by Republican partisanship. Americans expect Congress
to do its job. Republican Congressional leaders should call both the Senate and the
House back into session to pass a real and serious response to the burgeoning Zika
crisis. The simplest course of action would be to pass the Senate’s clean bipartisan
compromise on Zika funding by unanimous consent and have the House pass the same
bill immediately.