Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, voicing frustration that Congress has been unable to agree on funding the fight against Zika, introduced his own anti-Zika bill Thursday, this one intended to ease the impact the outbreak has had on local businesses.
For the second time in three days, he vented frustration on the Senate floor, angry at colleagues over over their inability to fund the battle against virus.
“How did we get to this point?” Rubio asked, his voice rising. “And how did something like this, a public health crisis, become a political tool to be played with back and forth? And yet that’s what Washington has become: a place that’s expert at literally turning any issue into a political issue. . . . That’s why people are grossed out and disgusted by American politics.”
Rubio, who is up for re-election in November, said the economic impact of the virus on Florida’s tourism industry was alarming. He accused his colleagues of ignoring the broader effects that Zika travel warnings are having.
“This Zika issue is not just a health care issue. . . . It is hurting small businesses,” Rubio said. “Miami Beach as a city is going to see tax revenues go down. It’s going to hurt one of the engines of our tourism sector.”
Rubio’s bill would give the Small Business Administration the authority to make loans to communities negatively affected by health-related travel advisories issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He urged his fellow lawmakers to fast-track the legislation.
“I don’t know why anyone would be against this,” Rubio said. “My hope is we can move quickly on it. It is important. I know there is a lot of jurisdictional pride around here and committees say, ‘You have to come through us.’ I hope you can make an exception on this issue because these communities are hurting bad.”
The Florida senator is fending off attacks by his Democratic challenger, Rep. Patrick Murphy, who has accused him of not having enough pull with his party’s leadership to deliver a Zika bill that can pass the Senate.
Murphy, like other Democrats, opposes a House-passed Zika bill that includes budget cuts to Obamacare and Ebola research. Democrats also object to language in the bill that would disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving grant money for Zika prevention in Puerto Rico, which has been hard hit by the virus.
Democrats in the Senate have blocked the bill three times since June, most recently on Tuesday.
In his floor speech Thursday, Rubio made it clear he blames his own party as well as Democrats for the gridlock.
“It took too long for many in my own party to realize this was important,” Rubio said.
The Senate already passed a bipartisan compromise bill that allocated $1.1 billion in emergency funds, he said. That version had no provisions that affected Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for grant money, and the spending was not offset by any budget cuts. It passed the Senate by 89-8 in May.
“It was less than what the president asked for, but money began to move,” Rubio said. “Unfortunately, the House has a different idea, and finds us in the stalemate we’re in today.”
With the Senate deadlocked on the House-passed bill, Rubio said he thought the “clean” bipartisan bill already passed by the Senate was the “fastest and best way forward.”
He said he would continue to work with his colleagues to ensure that bill was part of any budget bill or continuing resolution Congress must pass by the end of September to keep the federal government open.
Efforts to reach a deal on Zika funding continued behind closed doors Thursday, but there were few signs of progress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the talks would continue over the weekend.