The GOP’s Shameless Politicization of Zika

As I sit here on my patio after a long night of rain, I’m trying not to get too close to the citronella candle because it has a warning label that advises me that California has determined that breathing its fumes is carcinogenic. On the other hand, I’m trying not to scratch the mosquito bite I received right between my should blades in that spot you need to be a yogi to reach. Have my neighbors been to the tropics, lately? Do they have the Zika virus? Could these mosquitos swarming around my workspace have the Zika virus, too?

It’s just a thought. Not quite a paranoid thought, but probably not a productive use of my stress hormones. All I know is that I feel like I should take some affirmative measures to avoid getting eaten alive by mosquitos this year. It’s not unheard of for people to get West Nile virus in these parts, either, so I’m disregarding California’s warning. Maybe I’ll switch to using some Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent if I can locate my swimming bag and dig it out of there. It might help with the ticks, which are bad this year, although not as bad as last year’s unprecedented population. Fortunately, they’re mostly the “good” Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever ticks and not the “bad” Lyme Disease ticks. Of course, everyone in my family including the pets has had Lyme Disease, most of us more than once. I might have it right now.

But Zika is particularly frightening because it appears to cause birth defects in utero, including microcephaly, a severe brain abnormality. And it can be transmitted by the mosquitos that are swarming around me right now. All they need is a population of infected people to bite, and that is fortunately what they do not yet have here in Pennsylvania. There was a baby down in Florida born with Zika-related microcephaly recently, but the mother contracted the disease in Haiti. So far, they’ve found about two dozen cases of Zika in my state, but they are likewise cases of people coming home from the tropics. Unless a mosquito bites one of those travelers and then bites me, I don’t have to worry because I don’t think I’ll be having intimate relations with any of them (which could also transmit the virus to me). It’s easy to see how the virus could go from being extremely rare to a full blown epidemic if we aren’t very vigilant.

And that’s why the president has requested $1.9 billion in emergency spending. But the Republicans in Congress see this emergency as an opportunity to win concessions from the Democrats and the administration that they could not otherwise get. That the Republicans’ funding bill is $800 million short of what was asked of them is a concern, but I also assume that the administration highballed them knowing that they’d get shortchanged. So, I’m not all that worried that the funding level will be inadequate. What concerns me is that the Democrats in the Senate feel compelled to filibuster the bill and that the administration has issued a veto threat.

Why, for example, was this funding tied to a bill for the Veterans’ Affairs administration? And why does the bill remove language that already passed in Congress to limit the display of the Confederate Flag in veterans’ cemeteries? What does Robert E. Lee have to do with the Zika virus? And why does it block spending for Planned Parenthood and contraceptive efforts that could be key to preventing tragic pregnancies? Even Pope Francis has relaxed the Catholic Church’s traditional opposition to contraception in response to the Zika outbreak, but Congressional Republicans can’t make the same concession?

Meanwhile, the Republicans are eager to blame the Democrats if they refuse to go along with their hardball tactics.

“The first TV picture of an American woman bearing a child with a birth defect caused by this virus will be on [Democrats],” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I wouldn’t want to be in their position.”

Can you just picture Sen. Cornyn rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation? He’s a real pro-life guy, that one.

If you remember the House Democrats’ gun violence control sit-in, you might know that Speaker Paul Ryan rammed home this Zika bill at something like 3:30am while that was going on. There was no debate.

And now the GOP is saying “take it or leave it” because they’re leaving town and they’re blaming the president and the Democrats if they don’t accept their terms and there is an outbreak during the peak summer mosquito season.

It just seems like there are some things that should be so important that trying to win a political advantage would take a back seat.

But if the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, cannot get a bill to the president to sign then they can explain why flying the Confederate Flag is more important than protecting women from having catastrophic pregnancies.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.