Sen. Patty Murray felt compelled Tuesday to vote against one of her top priorities for veterans — a plan that she’s pursued for four years.
Her decision to join a Democratic filibuster that blocked the Republican Zika-funding bill also dealt a setback to her plan to pay for in-vitro fertilization services for veterans whose fertility was damaged or destroyed while in the military.
Murray, D-Wash., won a big vote in May, when the Senate agreed to require the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to spend $88 million over the next two years to pay for the treatment. The House of Representatives followed suit last week.
But just when it appeared that the measure might actually get signed by President Barack Obama this year, Murray helped stop it when it got tangled in a partisan dispute over how much to spend on fighting Zika.
Murray objected to other provisions, as well, including an effort to prevent Zika funding from going to Planned Parenthood.
It’s an example of the difficult tradeoffs members of Congress often face when proposals that deal with different subjects get lumped together in a take-it-or-leave-it package.
Murray decided to reject it all.
Enough is enough. Enough with the partisanship. Enough with the poison pills. And enough with using women’s health to pander to the tea party.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray
“Enough is enough,” she said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Enough with the partisanship. Enough with the poison pills. And enough with using women’s health to pander to the tea party.”
Murray did not mention her IVF plan in her speech but said later that it was “incredibly disappointing” that it had been included in a bill that “turned into a political football practically overnight.”
“And though I am disappointed by this latest delay, I am going to keep fighting,” she said.
While the Senate voted 52-48 to advance the Zika funding bill, it fell short of the 60 votes Republicans needed to end the filibuster.
Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for inaction while the Zika crisis mounts during the height of the mosquito season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus spreads to people mainly through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It can also be spread by a man to his sex partners, while a woman can pass the virus to her fetus during pregnancy or near the time of birth, the CDC said.
While the GOP plan included $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Democratic filibuster had left the Senate in an “utterly absurd position” of not approving any money to fight the disease.
While the GOP plan included $1.1 billion to fight the virus, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the filibuster left the Senate in an “utterly absurd position” of not approving any money to tackle the disease.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called the move to block the vote “shocking and shameful” and urged constituents to call their senators to demand an explanation.
While the GOP plan fell short of the $1.9 billion in emergency funding Obama had requested in February, Democrats were most irked with the extra provisions included after the bill emerged from a House-Senate conference committee last week.
Many Democrats said the GOP provision that prohibited any money from going to Planned Parenthood to fight Zika made little sense since the disease could be transmitted by sexual contact. They accused Republicans of loading the bill with other “poison pills,” including cuts to Obamacare and Ebola research, an easing of environmental regulations for pesticides and the removal of a ban on the Confederate flag flying at cemeteries.
This conference report is the most irresponsible legislation I’ve ever seen in my 34 years in Congress — that says a lot.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“This conference report is the most irresponsible legislation I’ve ever seen in my 34 years in Congress — that says a lot,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He said Congress needed to respond quickly to the Zika virus, with 2,900 Americans already contracting the disease, including another 700 just last week.
Murray urged Republicans “to come back to the negotiating table” with a serious plan.
“One thing we should be able to agree on is that, when there is a serious national — and global — public health threat, we should put our differences aside and work together to protect women, families and communities,” she said.
Murray also vowed to keep working to get rid of the federal law that prohibits the VA from paying for IVF treatments. Congress approved the ban in 1992, responding to concerns that assisted reproduction would result in the destruction of some fertilized embryos.
Tuesday’s vote came as frustrating news for Tyler Wilson, 31, and his fiancée, Crystal Black, 32, both of Denver. Wilson has been in a wheelchair since he was shot four times in Afghanistan in 2005, with one of the bullets still in his spine.
It’s a slap in the face. I gave up my ability to walk. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, but with this vote they’ve taken the only method for myself and my wife to have a family after being wounded in combat.
Tyler Wilson, who’s been in a wheelchair since he was shot in Afghanistan
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Wilson, who’s planning to marry Black on Friday. “I gave up my ability to walk. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, but with this vote they’ve taken the only method for myself and my wife to have a family after being wounded in combat.”
The couple, who came to Capitol Hill last month to help Murray lobby for the bill, has already started IVF treatments and expects to spend $40,000 on them. Since Wilson’s request for help was rejected by the VA, Black said, the couple has already spent $14,000 of their own money on IVF treatments, while receiving donations from family members and friends.
After the vote, Black said that neither Democrats or Republicans could be absolved of responsibility to help her soon-to-be husband and other similarly wounded veterans.
“Again, politics has gotten in the way,” she said.