Vice Chairwoman Mikulski Statement on Republican VA-Military Construction and Zika Conference Report Cloture Vote
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, submitted the following statement for the record before the vote to end debate on the Republican conference report for the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill and Zika virus supplemental funding.
The following is Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s statement for the record:
“I am furious and fed up at Congress’s inability to act in a bipartisan way to protect us from the Zika virus. The U.S. is facing a public health emergency. Americans are desperate for Congress to respond. Instead, the House of Representatives passed a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Zika conference report at 3 a.m. with no debate and no Democratic input.
“The bill passed by House Republicans doesn’t recognize Zika as a public health emergency. It nickels and dimes our efforts to respond. It makes it more difficult for women to access birth control. And it waives safety rules for the use of pesticides. Now the House has left town and expects the Senate to pass this terrible bill.
“The facts are clear – Zika is here. It disproportionately affects women and babies. It causes horrible birth defects. And there is no treatment or vaccine. If there was ever a time that Congress should act in a bipartisan way to counter a significant threat, it is now.
“We are now considering cloture on the conference report on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Zika appropriations. We began the conference with an open meeting between Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate. But when we got down to the last, hardest issues, Republicans decided among themselves and then told Democrats, ‘take it or leave it.’
“No Democratic conferees signed the conference report – House or Senate. We can’t sign it if it means leaving behind veterans, women’s health, birth defects prevention and clean water. I urge the Senate to reject cloture on this conference report and send conferees back to the drawing board.
“The Republican conference report is flawed for many reasons, including that it provides $1.1 billion, which is $800 million less than what the President requested to fight Zika.
“The Republican conference report also doesn’t treat Zika like the emergency it is. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a public health emergency on February 1. And Zika meets the Budget Act criteria for emergency spending – it’s urgent, unforeseen and temporary. Yet Republicans insisted that we cut $750 million to pay for the response to Zika, including $543 million from the Affordable Care Act, $100 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Non-recurring Expense Fund and $107 million from Ebola response funds.
“When wildfires hit the West, Congress provided emergency funding. When flooding hit South Carolina and Texas last year, Congress provided emergency funding. Now, we have an infectious disease outbreak that we know causes serious birth defects, and Republicans insist our response be paid for.
“The conference report waives Clean Water Act requirements for the spraying of pesticides to control mosquitos. The need for this provision is a mystery to me, since the Clean Water Act already allows pesticides to be sprayed in pest emergencies.
“Under this bill, families can get birth control services from public health departments and hospitals, but not individual doctors or primary care clinics. This is important – the bill would make it more difficult for women to access birth control from their own doctors.
“I know the issue of birth control is difficult for some, but we know that Zika has terrible consequences for women and babies. The details about what Zika does to the brains of unborn children are truly horrific. In fact, evidence between Zika and birth defects is so conclusive that some countries are advising women to avoid pregnancy altogether.
“So the fact that this bill would make it more difficult for women to avoid pregnancy is truly astonishing to me. Republicans don’t want to treat Zika as an emergency and they don’t want to expand access to birth control. It begs the question: Will they be willing to pay the costs associated with every child born in this country with Zika-related birth defects? Dr. Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that cost to be up to $10 million per child.
“Lastly, the conference report is $500 million short of the Senate-approved funding level for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It cuts $250 million for needed maintenance for VA hospitals and clinics – more than half of which are 50 years or older. That means more leaking roofs and moldy conditions that make veterans sicker – not better.
“In the four months since the President requested Zika emergency funds, more people have been infected and more babies have been born with birth defects. Today there are more than 2,600 people in the U.S. and its territories infected with Zika, including nearly 500 pregnant women.
“The number of those infected is growing, and the costs associated with infection are growing. We can’t nickel and dime our way out of this emergency. We know what the threat is, and we know how to respond to it. So please, whatever differences we have on other bills, let’s come together to reach agreement on a better conference report.”
Contact: Mara Stark-Alcalá (202) 224-2667
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