Mikulski Statement at Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Zika Conference Meeting
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the first meeting of the Senate and House conference on the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, H.R. 2577. The bill also includes Zika virus emergency funding.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Chairman Rogers and Chairman Cochran for convening this meeting. Completing our work on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill and the Zika virus emergency supplemental is urgent and overdue.
“I know we have several outstanding issues that we must address. I am disappointed that the conferees have been instructed to cut Veterans Affairs (VA) funding by $500 million. I also understand that the Murray amendment to provide in-vitro fertilization services is still an open issue. This is a widely used medical procedure that vets should have access to. The VA provides treatments for other injuries sustained in war – infertility treatments should be no different.
“And of course, we must work through the differences in the Zika bills passed by the House and Senate. I am disappointed that there are no instructions on whether Zika funds should be allocated as emergency dollars. While we need to abide by the Budget Act, Congress must have the ability to respond to real world events such as Zika or the Orlando tragedy.
“When it comes to Zika, there can be no dispute on whether this constitutes as an emergency. The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak a public health emergency on February 1, 2016. The crisis meets the Budget Act criteria for emergency spending: it’s urgent, it’s unforeseen and it’s temporary. That means Congress’ respond to Zika as an emergency, with emergency spending and a sense of urgency.
“The facts are clear. Zika is here. It disproportionately affects women and babies. It causes horrible birth defects. We don’t have reliable and timely tests. And we don’t have a treatment or vaccine. As of June 8th, there were almost 2,000 U.S. Zika cases including 341 pregnant women. There are 691 cases in the Continental U.S., and 1,300 in Puerto Rico.
“My constituents are scared, and are asking me why Congress isn’t acting. They feel they don’t have a government on their side. I’m worried they are right – it’s been nearly four months since the Administration sent us a request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding. We’ve heard from Drs. Fauci and Frieden about the urgency of this funding.
“Congress has parsed and pondered. We’ve contemplated and debated. But we still don’t have a bill signed into law. We’re in a race against the clock. We’re in a race against the mosquitos, and the mosquitos are winning.
“Zika is an emergency, and Congress needs to respond to it as an emergency in both timing and funding. That’s why we shouldn’t cut existing public health programs to pay for Zika. It makes no sense to cut Ebola or other public health funds that Congress approved to prepare for and protect against other significant and serious health problems. We’re talking about other threats like measles, food-borne illness, antibiotic resistant bacteria and hospital-acquired infections. Does anyone really think we should make a state choose between responding to Zika and the measles? Or between tracking a food-borne illness outbreak or an antibacterial resistant infection outbreak? We’d be raiding one pot of funds designated for emergency preparedness activities and giving it to another emergency.
“I’ve been concerned with Congress’ slow response to Zika, and that when all is said and done, more is getting said than done. But I am encouraged that we’re having a public conference. And again, I thank Chairmen Rogers and Cochran for hosting this meeting. I hope that these differences can be resolved in an open and transparent way that includes all ‘four corners.’
“We know what the threat is. And we know how to respond to it. We need to work together to finish this bill and get it to the President quickly.”
Contact: Mara Stark-Alcalá (202) 224-2667
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