Democrats are turning up the heat on GOP leaders to call off the rest of Congress’s recess to come back and deal with the Zika virus.
With the virus now spreading through Florida, more than 40 Senate Democrats wrote to the top two congressional Republicans on Thursday urging them to “immediately cancel” the remaining four weeks of break and approve emergency funding.
“The problems the American people confront do not disappear simply because Congress does,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (Wisc.).
The Democrats’ call to action comes just as federal health agencies are grappling with the spread of the mosquito-borne virus within the continental U.S. for the first time. Fifteen people in Florida have been infected with the Zika virus through mosquito bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Without new funding from Congress, the Obama administration had just $374 million to fight Zika domestically. About $173 million remains, though health officials say that funding is on its way out the door.
About $132 million of that money is going directly to vaccine development — money that will be exhausted by the end of August, health officials say.
Democrats are demanding that the Senate GOP comes back to its negotiations on a $1.1 billion funding package, which had been bipartisan.
House Republicans, however, balked at the deal, which would not have been fully paid for. GOP leaders then agreed to a $1.1 billion funding package that is offset using other healthcare funding — including ObamaCare programs.
That bill would also prevent funds from going to Planned Parenthood, a move that Democrats have strongly condemned because of the need for family planning services for Zika-infected women. The virus can be transmitted sexually, which public health experts say presents an even greater need for more contraceptive funding.
But Republicans are showing no signs of backing down.
A spokesman for McConnell said Democrats have the chance to end their “filibuster” of the GOP’s $1.1 billion Zika bill as early as Friday, when the Senate meets for a pro-forma session.
“Whenever they’re ready to stop blocking funding for anti-Zika efforts and funding for our veterans, we’ll be here waiting,” Don Stewart wrote in an email, adding that the office had not yet officially received a copy of the letter.
“Apparently Senate Democrats thought an earmark for Planned Parenthood in the future was more important that preventing the threat of Zika now,” Stewart said.
Public concerns about Zika are mounting as the virus threatens to spread deeper into the Southern U.S. A recent poll by Morning Consult found that 61 percent of people believed the U.S. should spend more money to fight Zika, though it did not ask about the issues at the heart of Congress’s funding stalemate like Planned Parenthood or offsets.
A total of 850 pregnant women have tested positive for Zika in the U.S. and its territories.
Thirteen women in the U.S. have delivered babies with microcephaly, and six more have suffered miscarriages, according to government data as of Wednesday.