Texas Republican lawmakers, concerned that their state is at the epicenter of a Zika virus health emergency, are hoping that when Congress returns after the Fourth of July break, members can work out a compromise for the stalled funding proposal for research and prevention of the dangerous virus.
Senate Republicans and Democrats are angry with each other since Democrats voted Tuesday to block $1.1 billion in funding for the Zika virus because of Republican-inserted provisions added to the bill at the last minute in a House-Senate conference.
Democrats say they cannot support such measures as cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and removing a prohibition on flying the Confederate flag at federal cemeteries.
The real issue is: Are we going to fund this research or not?
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
The outlook for compromise is unclear. Sen. Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said this week that he thought the Democratic complaints were “phony.”
“I hope that when we come back next week, the majority leader has said that the Democratic colleagues that voted against this funding bill – this emergency funding bill that they so ardently have insisted upon for so long – that they will have another chance to vote,” Cornyn said Wednesday.
“And I hope in the interim that our friends across the aisle will search their soul – really, their conscience – and they’ll have maybe a little twinge of regret for having voted to deny the funding for development of a vaccine, for insect control and for research so we can learn more about this virus, so we can learn how to combat it more effectively.”
Cornyn spoke on the Senate floor for three days this week about the Zika virus, sometimes before a stand with a picture of a baby that has serious deformities. The mosquito-carried virus in an infected pregnant woman can cause a disfiguring birth defect, known as microcephaly, that results in abnormally small heads in newborns.
Dallas-Fort Worth is the No. 1 so-called Zika zone in the country, according to a study by Fit Organic, an organic consumer goods company whose products include mosquito repellent. The company used federal data on population and the prevalence of mosquitoes to reach its conclusions. Three other Texas cities are on its top 10 list: Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
“This is a particular concern in Texas. As Gov. Abbott and others have noted, we live in the part of the country where this particular mosquito that carries this virus is present,” Cornyn told Texas reporters Wednesday, referring to Gov. Greg Abbott. “This threat is literally at our doorstep.”
Democrats were clear that they would reconsider if the offending provisions were removed. That could require another conference agreement or a stand-alone bill.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who worked on the conference agreement that produced the bill, is supporting the package.
“The American people are fed up with the dysfunction in Washington, and Senate Democrats’ decision to block critical Zika funding is yet another example of why. This Democrat filibuster is about blatant politics instead of what the House is focused on – protecting young women and their babies susceptible to the severe consequences of Zika,” Granger said Thursday in a statement.
Cornyn has been working closely with Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, a medical doctor, on efforts to battle the virus. The two recently wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden, saying they were concerned that the federal government was not “effectively notifying Americans” traveling to countries with a prevalence of Zika transmission.