WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his Republican convention speech Tuesday night as a platform to blame the Democrats for the Senate’s failure to approve emergency funds to fight the Zika virus.
Never mind that the Republicans control the Senate, and that they failed — twice — to work out a funding bill with broad enough support to pass the chamber. In McConnell’s telling, it was the Democrats who prevented the $1.1 billion bill from passing before Congress left for a seven-week recess, so any public health consequences will be their responsibility.
“As we sit here tonight, a terrifying mosquito-borne illness threatens expectant mothers and their babies along the Southern Coast,” McConnell said, as some delegates nodded in agreement. “And just last week, Clinton Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill aimed at eradicating that virus before it spread.”
“What in the world do these people think public service is about?”
McConnell’s speech before a prime time, national audience was an escalation of his efforts to blame the standoff on the Democrats. It came after two failed attempts in the Senate — including one right before the recess — to end a filibuster over the final Zika funding bill, which was negotiated by House and Senate Republicans and passed by the House.
Rather than return to the negotiating table after the first failure, McConnell scheduled a second vote on the same bill right before the recess, challenging the Democrats to change their votes. They didn’t.
Democrats resisted the bill because it contains a provision that they say would effectively cut funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as spending cuts to the Affordable Care Act and other programs to pay for the Zika efforts.
It’s also well short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration asked for, although the total amount of funding — $1.1 billion — is in line with an earlier Senate version that passed with broad bipartisan support. It’s also well above the original House version, which provided just $622 million.
Democrats have suggested going back to the earlier Senate version that had strong support from both parties, but McConnell insists that the final bill cannot be changed.