WASHINGTON — Fund the fight against Zika. Now.
That was the unified message coming Friday from Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and other top Democrats, who pressed for a swift vote in Congress to approve emergency funds to fight the Zika virus.
“Zika is real. It’s dangerous. It’s already reached the United States,” Clinton wrote in a post on Medium. “We need to act now to protect people, especially pregnant women.”
Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, wrote a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging him not to let lawmakers go off to spring recess until they’ve passed the $1.9 billion in emergency spending that President Obama has requested to deal with the public health threats from the Zika virus, as well as the nearly $600 million he proposed in his budget for next year to fight opioid abuse.
They also want the House to approve $765 million in emergency funds to respond to the lead water poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich.
“Unless Congress approves emergency resources, the spread of the Zika virus, the accelerating tragedy of opioid addiction, and the Flint water crisis each threaten to do irreversible damage to the lives of thousands of Americans,” the Democratic leaders wrote. “The House must not adjourn before we take action to address these emergencies threatening the lives and the futures of so many American families.”
The House is scheduled to work through the middle of next week, then adjourn for a two-week spring recess.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, noted that the House Appropriations Committee “has stated there are existing resources to address Zika,” and that “members on both sides of the aisle are working to advance solutions to address the growing opioid crisis.”
The Zika funding request is stalled because House Republican appropriators have told the Obama administration it should use the billions of dollars in unspent Ebola response funds before asking Congress for more. Federal health officials say there’s not actually that much money to move around, because the Ebola crisis isn’t over and the money was meant to help countries prepare for other infectious diseases.
“Why would we lower our defenses against one public health threat in order to meet another one? That’s senseless and dangerous,” Clinton wrote. She called for an urgent effort to develop a rapid diagnostic test, a vaccine, and treatments for Zika.
The other Democratic leaders echoed that argument in their letter.
“We need a robust, proactive US response to protect American communities and combat the Zika virus across our hemisphere — and we cannot cannibalize the funds needed to continue the effort to develop an Ebola vaccine and prevent an Ebola pandemic,” the Democratic leaders wrote.