RACINE COUNTY — As both sides accuse the other of playing political games, Congress remains deadlocked over funding to combat the Zika virus.
Democrats this week blocked a bill providing $1.1 billion to fight Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that can cause fetal death and severe brain defects in children of infected pregnant women.
Democrats objected to “poison” provisions in the bill, including measures they argue are aimed at denying money for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico and easing clean water laws.
But their opposition brought a strong rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. In an an interview Wednesday with The Journal Times, Ryan accused Democrats of “making up excuses to justify voting against it,” saying Planned Parenthood is never mentioned and the bill funds Zika at the level requested.
“The offsets to pay for it were very vanilla, meaning they weren’t partisan in any way,” Ryan said. “And it was part of a bill to fund military construction and veterans’ health care. So there was nothing in here that was a poison pill or partisan to say the least.
“What really surprises us so much is they’re being so political about it,” said Ryan, who represents Racine County in Congress.
Ryan said he doesn’t know what the future of the bill holds, with the Senate soon heading to recess and the number of Zika cases climbing. More than 800 Zika cases, including almost 300 pregnant women at risk of delivering children with severe deformities, have been reported in the continental United States.
Democrats blocked the GOP-drafted measure by a 52-48 vote — short of the 60 votes needed to advance it.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who voted against cloture, said “Americans are desperate for Washington respond to this public health emergency, yet Congressional Republicans insist on playing politics.”
“The bill passed by House Republicans shortchanges our response, blocks funding for women’s reproductive health services, and includes political, poison pill riders,” Baldwin said in a statement to The Journal Times. “Now the House has left town and they have turned their back on this public health crisis. We need a bipartisan solution in the Senate that approves emergency funding to detect, prevent and respond to this serious and dangerous threat.”