Editorial: Pass Zika prevention funding now

The Detroit News

The Zika virus recently claimed the life of an infant in Texas, a tragedy that could be repeated elsewhere as the mosquito-borne virus spreads. And it becomes more likely the longer Congress plays political games with Zika prevention funding.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats agree Congress should authorize funding to help stem the spread of Zika, a virus causing the potentially fatal birth defect hydrocephaly, or “water on the brain.”

Yet, each faction has fortified its opposition to any Zika prevention funding proposal with sober-sounding reasons that seem misguided at best, disingenuous at worst.

Passing at least some Zika prevention funding should be easy under present conditions: Each party clamors for the funds.

And both the House and Senate has approved relatively similar packages. Congress set recent precedents by approving $5.4 billion to fight Ebola in 2014 and $1.85 billion to fight the H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak in 2009. President Barack Obama has even proven willing to divert unspent Ebola funding to Zika, a move encouraged by the Republican-backed House bill but opposed by Senate Democrats.

But the funding remains stalled. The Republican dysfunction relates to timing, the Democrat dysfunction to pet projects.

House Republicans have chosen a curious moment, now that Zika has breached our shores, to prove they are serious about preventing wasteful spending and requiring the U.S. government to live inside its means.

Obama requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika in February. Bipartisan Senate leadership agreed on $1.1 billion in May, an amount the House finally approved in June before entering the seven-week recess they now enjoy.

To produce its $1.1 billion, however, the approved House bill diverts $750 million from other programs’ reserves, including Planned Parenthood, which Senate Democrats won’t abide. Budget offsets are responsible, but they should be done in a way that doesn’t set up a prolonged political fight in the face of an emergency.

With the Zika virus marching steadily northward, this is no time for another Washington standoff.

Both parties should agree that the Zika prevention funding is critical, and set aside their tired political fight over Planned Parenthood. There are other, less contentious places in the budget to find the offset funds.