In the movie The American President, Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd delivers a speech about the responsibilities of being in high elected office. “We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people,” he emphatically proclaims.
We expect gridlock nowadays in highly partisan issues with deep divisions. However, now it seems that even areas where there is broad, bipartisan agreement escapes the abilities of Congress. Such is the case with the crucial extra funding to fight the burgeoning Zika virus crisis, both here and abroad.
Public health officials have been begging for the funding for months now to prepare for, study and fight Zika, which is spreading rapidly across Latin America and the Caribbean — and now making inroads here in Florida and elsewhere on the U.S. mainland. We must agree with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s assertion this week that the inability of Congress to act in the face of this clear and present danger is “simply inexcusable.”
How much to fund Zika fighting efforts and with what restrictions have been under discussion since February, when President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion to combat the growing scourge. Sadly, it now appears that Congress will go on hiatus for the rest of the summer without addressing a number of serious problems facing our nation, including the invasive Zika virus. The failure of Congress to approve any money to help fight Zika is simply a dereliction of duty when a major health threat is staring us right in the collective face.
Public health officials have been begging for help so that the nation can fight Zika, which is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters, but can also bite at night.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has reported that more than 1,100 travelers have shown up infected in the continental U.S., including close to 400 pregnant women. There is currently no vaccine or medicine for Zika, which can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy has been linked to certain birth defects. The most obvious and horrifying birth defect known to be caused by a Zika infection is microcephaly, where the child’s head is smaller than normal because the brain itself is badly damaged.
Adding to the concern is the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While the CDC recently claimed tourists traveling between the U.S. and Brazil should not accelerate the spread of the Zika virus around the world, this is not an entirely reassuring position. A number of world-class athletes, including gymnast Carly Patterson, golfers Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, and cyclist Tejay van Garderen, have expressed concern about competing in the Olympic Games due to health issues, which includes both the Zika virus and questionable water quality for swimming and boating events.
Given that these athletes are in far better condition and health than the vast majority of Americans — and thus theoretically better able to fend off infections of any sort — their refusal to subject themselves to the risks of contracting the virus should be a warning to everyone, especially our elected officials, that this is a concern of utmost importance.
Instead, Congress will shut down for two months, leaving the entire Zika situation hanging. President Harry Truman once proclaimed, “The buck stops here.” Sadly, our current commander-in-chief can’t even take action in this case because the much-needed funding legislation to make this happen hasn’t gotten to his desk.