Congress dithers while Zika spreads


It may seem like New Hampshire is a long way from the white sand beaches of Florida and the Zika virus, but no place on Earth is more than a few days and a credit card away.

Florida, as of Tuesday (Aug. 23), had 42 cases of Zika. The state's mosquito season is year-round, particularly in the semi-tropical south.

In a few short months, falling temperatures will begin sending the first of the state's many snowbirds south. They will be followed by tourists who want to spend a few weeks where it's warm and then by college kids on spring break. Some of them will be bitten by the mosquitoes capable of transmitting the virus, which in humans can also be transmitted by sexual contact.

Earlier this summer, Congress continued its do-nothing record by refusing to pass a bill that included $1.9 billion requested by President Obama to combat the growing Zika crisis.

The virus has caused some 270 birth defects in Puerto Rico and begun its spread across the Gulf states of America.

The Senate passed the bill, but when House Republicans got their hands on it, they did their obstructionist duty and pared the bill to $1.1 billion and added amendments they knew Democrats could not support. The cuts included money for Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act.

Congress then left for vacation, leaving the National Institutes of Health and Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, to fend for themselves. That is not governing, nor is it responsible.

New Hampshire's junior senator, Republican Kelly Ayotte, supported the blackmail effort and joined fellow Republicans in blaming Democrats for not swallowing the pill.

It didn't matter, apparently, that Planned Parenthood would have used some of the money for family planning services for people at risk of contracting the disease.

The Zika virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947, before the age of commercial air travel.

It spread very slowly, but once a disease capable of causing an epidemic or pandemic gets up a head of steam it can be difficult to stop.

Speed is crucial in combating a potential epidemic. With time, the number of people and mosquitoes infected can increase exponentially.

Congress has already wasted precious time — time that guaranteed that more children would be born with abnormally small heads and brains.

The blockade also put off the day when Zika can be prevented with a vaccine and slowed research into creating an Ebola vaccine.

The discovery and spread of the Zika virus has drilled another hole in Puerto Rico's economy by killing tourism. The southern United States could be next. Louisiana, as flood waters recede and leave standing pools, could suffer a mosquito explosion that could spread the virus even faster.

Florida's Zika problem was worsened by the thousands of people from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, some of them already infected, who fled the disease.

As it spreads through the U.S. South, the same thing will happen.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers while members raise money and campaign.

Passing Zika funding legislation, minus poison pills, should be the first thing on the agenda when Congress returns. It will be another test of whether Republicans, Ayotte included, have learned to govern.

Concord Monitor (N.H.), Aug. 24


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