The Only Thing More Horrifying Than Zika Is How Our Leaders Have Handled It

April 30th 2016

As the Zika virus continues to spread in South America and other regions of the world, posing a threat to the U.S., Congress is still debating how much money is plans to allocate to combat the mosquito-borne disease.

mosquito-biting-someones-skinFlickr/AFPMB -

Zika is a mosquito-born disease that is believed to cause birth defects, immune disorders, and neurological disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

Lawmakers failed to parse out a deal on Zika spending before breaking for a week-long recess on Thursday, The Atlantic reports. Weeks of debate have accomplished virtually nothing in the way of a budget deal, with senators divided across party lines.

Here's what the government is asking for to respond to Zika.

The White House requested $1.9 billion in emergency funds in February in order to develop and implement vaccines, diagnostic tests, and rapid-response teams to curb the spread of Zika in the U.S. But so far, the Obama administration has had to rely on about $600 million in emergency funds leftover for Ebola, which are now being repurposed for Zika. 

zika virusCDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith

"This is an emergency if there ever were an emergency," Sen. Harry Reid (N.V.) said, blaming GOP senators for the "gridlock" blocking Zika funds. "The Senate should not leave this week without addressing the legislation that deals with Zika."

But they did. While Senate Democrats hoped to reach a deal for the full funding requested by the White House, Senate Republicans have generally resisted that kind of spending, and the modest progress that was made this week — an announcement by Senate appropriators that the deal had nearly closed — was derailed after chief negotiators failed to agree upon an exact amount for funding.

Things don't look much better in the House of Representatives.

The House Appropriations Committee flatly rejected the White House's $1.9 billion Zika spending request in February, and "Republican appropriators — particularly in the House — are skeptical that additional dollars are necessary before the next appropriations season begins," The Washington Post reports

"Democrats and the White House also want the money to move through Congress as a stand-alone supplemental bill," CNN reports. "House Democrats introduced their own bill Monday, but Republicans oppose that and want to tack in onto one of the yearly appropriations bills working through the Congress now."

As lawmakers continue to debate Zika spending, the virus is spreading.

Zika Map showing top four

Experts warn that Zika is being transmitted at a rate that exceeds original estimates, and the problem could be exacerbated as the weather becomes warmer. There have already been 426 reported cases of travel-associated Zika virus disease in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the agency's principal deputy recently said that "[e]verything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought."

"Scientists have confirmed the virus causes the birth defect microcephaly and the immune disorder Guillain-Barré, and are investigating a link between Zika and brain and spinal-cord infections," The Atlantic reports.

Federal action on Zika prevention is overdue, experts say, and delays in funding appropriations appear to undermine efforts to control the disease in the U.S.

RELATED: Here Are the U.S. Locations with the Most Zika Virus Cases

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