Even Marco Rubio Is Getting Tired Of Republicans Blocking Zika Funding

Congress failed to pass a $1.1 billion Zika prevention package yet again.

An Aedes aegypti mosquito known to carry the Zika virus photographed through a microscope. CREDIT: AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File
An Aedes aegypti mosquito known to carry the Zika virus photographed through a microscope. CREDIT: AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File

On Tuesday, Congress’ latest effort to fund Zika prevention efforts went down in flames after Republicans added a rider blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving Zika-related funding.

The bill, which failed on a party line vote in the Senate — the Republican majority needed 60 votes to advance it — represents Congress’ third failure to pass a Zika funding package this year. It came on the same day that seven new locally-transmitted Zika cases were reported in Florida, ABC News reports. Late last month, Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden told reporters that additional funding was desperately needed.

“Basically, we’re out of money, and we need Congress to act to allow us to respond effectively,” Frieden said, adding that the CDC had spent about $200 million of the $222 million allocated for domestic Zika prevention this year, according to a Washington Post report.

As of August 31, the CDC reported a total of 2,722 Zika cases in the country. Out of those, 23 were sexually transmitted. Nonetheless, Republicans laced the $1.1 billion package that failed yesterday with a poison pill preventing Planned Parenthood from receiving any of the funds.

“When faced with a dangerous virus that can be sexually transmitted and cause significant fetal abnormalities, it should be common sense to invest in more family planning, not less,” a statement on Planned Parenthood’s website said in response. “But instead, anti-women’s health politicians in the House are continuing their reckless crusade against Planned Parenthood’s patients.”

The Zika bill that went down yesterday, which also included appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs, had been stripped of a provision restricting where the Confederate flag can fly in national cemeteries.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said “Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the Confederate flag — can’t make this stuff up, that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.”

Even staunch anti-choicer Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he opposed the strategy of including a Planned Parenthood poison pill, which prompted Democrats to reject the bill.

“My interest is getting the funding, so if [removing the Planned Parenthood lanaguage is] the fastest way to get the funding, I support it,” Rubio told the Hill, though he added that he thinks Democrats are exaggerating the importance of the provision.

According to USA Today, Rubio’s home state of Florida now has over 700 Zika cases, including 80 involving pregnant women. Despite the fact that Zika can cause severe birth defects, Rubio last month went on the record as opposing abortions for Zika-infected women. But his comments to the Hill signal he’s now willing to put public health above ideology.

Rubio’s sentiment was echoed by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) who, like Rubio, is up for reelection this November.

“The House should drop the poison pill language so we can pass a clean bill immediately,” Kirk wrote in a statement.

The New York Times reports that lawmakers “expect to address the funding issue by the end of the month as part of a must-pass, stopgap spending measure. That legislation would be intended to keep the government funded because it seems increasingly likely that Congress will not pass its annual spending bills by then.”

But the CDC warns that delaying passage of a funding bill by even a few weeks during the peak of mosquito season may have consequences. During his roundtable with reporters last month, CDC Director Frieden said that his agenda “might not have the resources” to effectively respond to a broader outbreak. Even if that doesn’t happen, Frieden said the CDC will be out of Zika prevention money by the end of September.