Zika Funding Bills Make For Strange Bedfellows Among Florida's Congressional Delegation

May 20, 2016

Credit James Gathany / USCDCP/MGN Online

Funding deals to combat the Zika virus are causing some members of Florida’s Congressional delegation to work together. But, it’s also causing others to spar over the mosquito-borne disease. And, it’s an issue that’s even crossing party lines.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio tried and failed to get enough Senators on board with their proposal. Attached to a military spending bill, it funded the 1.9 billion dollars—requested by the Obama administration to fight the Zika virus.

But, Nelson says the problem is Congress is turning this into a partisan fight, over an issue that isn’t one.

“And, yet, it seems to have been characterized that way,” he said.

But, Nelson says he’s not giving up and he’ll continue to push for the President’s full request.

And, while he says he prefers his effort with Nelson, Rubio is now co-sponsoring the 1.1-billion dollar proposal that did advance in the Senate.

“I certainly think that's better than nothing and I will support it,” said Rubio.

A recent announcement by the Centers for Disease Control says there are about 280 pregnant women that have shown signs of the Zika virus—close to 10 in Florida. At more than a 100, the Sunshine state still leads the nation in the number of cases.

So, Rubio says Congress shouldn’t continue to deal “on the cheap” with the mosquito-borne disease that can lead to birth defects. That’s why he says he’s troubled by the House proposal that only funds a third of the President’s nearly two billion dollar request.

“I’m glad that there has finally gotten some movement and that something's happening, but I’m really concerned about the direction their own funding measure is going,” Rubio added. ”Their funding measure isn't even $1.1 billion, it’s $622 million and quite frankly, that's just not going to cut it. If we don't spend more than that on the front end, I think we're going to spend a lot more later on.”

In a rare moment, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz—who is also the Democratic National Committee chair—agreed with the former GOP Presidential candidate.

"I will quote my colleague from the Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), that we must, and I agree with him, we must get out in front of this." -Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

“I am proud that we have transcended partisan lines in Florida, at least,” she said. “Senators Nelson and Rubio as well as Governor Rick Scott have all been outspoken advocates in support of the President’s request to fight this disease, which he made nearly three months ago…And, I will quote my colleague from the Senate, Senator Marco Rubio, that we must—and I agree with him—we must get out in front of this. We’ll only have ourselves to blame if we dither and don’t do so.”

But, Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart disagrees.

“It does provide the funds to fight Zika immediately, immediately…while also make sure we protect the hard-earned America people’s tax dollars,” he said.

Diaz-Balart is one of three Florida Congressmen to sign on to co-sponsor the House’s $622 million funding proposal. The other two are Tom Rooney and Ander Crenshaw.

He says while he agrees with his colleagues that this is an emergency, calling Florida “ground zero,” he believes the funds they appropriated are adequate.

“This bill is a second part of a three prong effort,” said Diaz-Balart. “First was the almost $600 million in repurposed Ebola funds. “Now, we are providing an additional $622 million for again a total of over $1.2 billion to deal with this disease. So, let’s be clear. If more funds are needed, Congress will step up and do what is necessary.”

But, Florida Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor disagrees.

“I heard the Republican appropriators say, ‘they intend to do more next year,’” she said. “The mosquitoes don’t know that. Do they? The mosquitoes aren’t going to wait next year. That’s unconscionable. The most immediate needs are woefully underfunded in the Republican bill. The CDC requested $740 million for public health activities, like mosquito control. The House bill provides $120 million—84 percent below the request.”

Still, the House proposal passed mostly among party lines. And, 11 Florida Democrats and three Republicans—Carlos Curbelo, Vern Buchanan, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen—voted against it.

President Obama has said he’ll veto the House proposal. Meanwhile, CDC officials say they’re optimistic that Congress will ultimately do the right thing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.