From the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor about the need to take immediate action and pass emergency supplemental funding to address the threat of the Zika virus. For three months Republicans have refused to take action on President Obama’s $1.9 billion emergency supplemental request.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“It’s been three months since the Administration sent Congress the emergency funding request to fight the Zika virus, and Congress still hasn’t acted on it. What are we waiting for? The mosquitos are here. Americans – especially women and children – are in danger. I said first with wit, but now with great concern, you can’t build a wall to keep the mosquitos out.
“The President has said $1.9 billion is needed to fight Zika and stop it from doing any more harm. That’s what I’m fighting for. We know what we need to get the job done. Let’s pass the full $1.9 billion in the Nelson-Rubio amendment to keep Americans safe.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency on February 1, 2016. President Obama sent a $1.9 billion emergency funding request to Congress on February 22, 2016. Republicans have refused to act on the request for almost three months.
“This is a serious public health crisis, but it is one we can do something about. We took an oath to defend all Americans against threats, foreign and domestic. We have a responsibility to protect Americans against the public health threat posed by Zika. If we refuse to act this will be a self-inflicted wound on our own people.
“As of May 11th, more than 1,200 Zika cases, including 113 pregnant women, in the United States and its territories, have been confirmed. And whether these individuals live in Maryland or in Puerto Rico, they are U.S. citizens and deserve action. The mosquitos that carry Zika are already in at least three states. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that soon they will be in 30 states.
“Some say, ‘Oh, let’s take more money from Ebola to deal with Zika,’ or ‘Oh, let’s use existing public health funds,’ or even ‘Oh, Zika isn’t really that bad.’ Well, while we parse and ponder, Zika infects and affects more people each day. We must act now.
“Information about Zika is evolving quickly. While there is much we don’t know, we do know for certain that Zika has terrible consequences for women and babies. Scientists have confirmed the link between the Zika infection in pregnancy and serious birth defects in babies. The details about what Zika does to the brains of unborn children are truly horrific.
“Over the years, I have heard many eloquent and poignant, even wrenching, speeches about protecting the unborn. They have been deeply moving. I’ve always tried to find common ground on this issue. But if you are really for defending the unborn, then you must vote to pass this emergency bill. Women all over the United States, particularly in Puerto Rico are truly frightened.
“If you are already pregnant, you’re wondering how to protect yourself and your unborn child. Other women are concerned about getting pregnant and the consequences of being bit by a mosquito. They are wondering how to stay safe. They are asking their doctors for advice. And doctors are looking for information, too, so they can counsel and treat their patients.
“So we know what we are facing. But Congress has not demonstrated the will to act. In my own state of Maryland, I have a Republican Governor, Larry Hogan. He is acting. He’s not waiting for Congress. He is acting. He devoted an entire week in April to Zika Awareness. He ordered his health department to coordinate education and awareness event with local health departments across Maryland. He authorized the distribution of 10,000 prevention kits for pregnant women across the state. These kits cost Maryland $130,000 to distribute. Maryland is doing it on its own dime.
“The Agriculture and Health Departments are educating Marylanders on how to avoid mosquito bites and how to eliminate mosquito breeding areas around homes. The counties in Maryland are acting, too. Anne Arundel County, home of the State Capitol and also headed by a Republican County Executive, is acting. Anne Arundel County distributed its own prevention kits and held town hall meetings on prevention and mosquito control.
“Then there’s Howard County, another Republican County Executive is acting. They’re distributing prevention kits and working with doctors on education and prevention. In Baltimore City our Mayor is acting. She is working with the Bloomberg School of Public Health and spending local money on mosquito control. So Maryland is acting. Now Congress must act.
“There’s no doubt Zika is an emergency. The WHO has declared it an emergency. And it meets the Budget Act criteria for emergency spending. It’s urgent, unforeseen and temporary. That’s why I will not support an amendment requiring that we cut the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for the Zika supplemental.
“We can’t prepare for and protect against Zika by taking funds meant for other public health activities. Without the Prevention Fund, states would lose nearly 40 percent of their surveillance dollars, which they need to track infectious disease outbreaks.
“We’re talking about outbreaks for infections like Zika, West Nile Virus, measles and whooping cough. We’re talking about other threats like food-borne illness, antibiotic resistance and hospital-acquired infections. Does anyone really think we should make a state choose between responding to Zika and responding to the measles? Or between tracking a food-borne illness outbreak or an antibacterial resistant infection outbreak? This is what we would be forcing states to do if we cut the Prevention Fund. We’d be raiding one pot of funds designated for emergency preparedness activities and giving it to another emergency. It just doesn’t make any sense.
“I’m concerned that we are just sitting around and that when all is said and done, more is said than done. The State of Maryland is acting. Other states are acting, too. Cities and local governments are taking steps to protect their residents. They know this is an emergency and aren’t waiting for the federal government. But we can’t allow our communities to continue to use local dollars on an international problem. They don’t have the resources to meet this threat alone.
“We know what the threat is and how to respond to it. So, please, whatever differences we have on other bills, let’s come together to pass this full emergency amendment without foolish offsets.”