Clinton sides with GOP on emergency health fund


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton vowed Wednesday to create a public health emergency fund that she says would have averted the yearlong fight in Congress over funding to combat the Zika virus.

Clinton is endorsing an idea long supported by Democrats — and, more recently, by Republican leadership in Congress.

Last month, GOP leaders set aside $300 million for the nation’s first emergency public health fund in one of the pending government spending bills for next year. The proposal is dubbed the “FEMA for public health,” a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps communities hurt by disasters.

Clinton’s proposal did not include a dollar amount for the fund and said only that it would include “consistent, year-to-year budgets. Her campaign did not return a request for comment.

But the premise of the idea is the same for both Clinton and senior Republicans leaders like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

In arguing for the fund, both Clinton and McCarthy cited recent outbreaks like the Zika and the Ebola viruses, as well as forces such as globalization and climate change that have increased the risk of diseases like SARS, MERS, and avian influenza spreading.

Clinton said the fund would specifically equip health officials at federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and local departments.

“We are not investing in public health preparedness and emergency response the way we should to keep our families and communities safe,” Clinton’s campaign wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Democrats, including Clinton, have hammered the GOP over Congress’s failure to pass a Zika bill before members left town for a seven-week recess this summer. Republicans have supported a $1.1 billion funding package, but it would move money from existing Ebola and ObamaCare efforts while preventing funds from going to Planned Parenthood — provisions Democrats staunchly oppose.

That fight is expected to resume this fall as Republican leadership looks to pass a short-term spending bill before the Sept. 30 deadline. 

In the wake of global outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, many experts have warned about the nation’s poor public health preparedness.

And although Congress approved more than $5 billion for a global response to Ebola in 2014, national per-capita health spending has declined 9.3 percent since 2008, according to a study last year by the Physicians for a National Health Program.

President Obama has called for nearly $2 billion to fight the Zika virus, which causes a severe birth defect called microcephaly.

The first locally acquired cases of Zika have been reported in Florida this month, with the CDC issuing an unprecedented warning for pregnant women to avoid travel to some parts of southern Florida.

In all U.S. states and territories, a total of 1,220 pregnant women have tested positive for the Zika virus. 

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