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Alexander: There is No Excuse Whatsoever for Democrats to Block $1.1 Billion to Combat the Zika Virus

Democrats refuse to protect babies from Zika-related birth defects for third time

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 6 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said “there is no excuse whatsoever for Democrats to block $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus” after Senate Democrats voted against funding to protect babies from Zika-related birth defects for a third time.

“You don’t need money to fight mosquitos in the wintertime,” Alexander said. “Republicans are eager to send help now while the mosquitos are out, and the only thing stopping us is a cynical and inexcusable move by Senate Democrats that is jeopardizing babies’ health, the peace of mind of millions of mothers and fathers, and our ability to find a Zika vaccine as soon as 2018, which NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins says is possible if we stay on track.”

In July, after Senate Democrats blocked $1.1 billion in Zika aid for the second time, Alexander said, “It is inexplicable that Senate Democrats are blocking a bill that would provide millions of dollars to hospitals, public health departments, community health centers, and health care providers in Puerto Rico, simply because some of the money is directed to providers that the Puerto Rican government has deemed Medicaid-eligible in Puerto Rico.”

The legislation Senate Democrats blocked today makes funds available for health services provided by public health departments, hospitals, Medicaid providers, and community health centers. In Puerto Rico, Planned Parenthood – which has two permanent facilities in the entire territory – is not considered a Medicaid-eligible provider because the Puerto Rican government chooses not to contract with Planned Parenthood. However, this proposed legislation would enable at least 148 locations to provide needed health care services for Puerto Ricans.

In August, the Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote, “Last month the Senate and House agreed to a $1.1 billion compromise … But Senate Democrats blocked the conference report, inventing the excuse that the bill banned funding for Planned Parenthood, restricted access to birth control, and gutted the Clean Water Act. None of this is true.”

The Senate already passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill on May 19 by a vote of 89-8. The House of Representatives also passed its version of the funding bill on May 19 by a vote of 295 to 129. On June 23, the House passed the conference report by a vote of 239-171.

The House-Senate conference report provides $1.1 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, and the United States Agency for International Development to combat the Zika virus. These dollars would support Zika response efforts, medical research for vaccines and diagnostic tests, and health and social services in afflicted areas.  

Additionally, the bill provides $82.3 billion in discretionary funding for military construction projects across the country and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to support veterans programs and military infrastructure. It also includes $103.9 billion in mandatory funding for veteran compensation programs and veterans pensions.