Olson: Zika virus not political issue
The outbreak of the Zika virus is a serious and growing threat that must be addressed. Houston is ground zero in the battle of this dangerous virus. To date 19 Houstonians have tested positive for the Zika virus. Tragically, a baby born in a Harris County hospital also became the first infant to die from Zika in the U.S. and the first Zika-related death in Texas. While health-care professionals are working hard to protect our communities from this virus, additional resources are needed.
This is a serious problem that should be above politics. Working together, Congress and the White House should have been able to tackle this critical issue right away. That’s why it was shocking to hear President Obama falsely accuse Republicans in Congress of doing nothing to address this threat. The reality is that Congress acted quickly to address the Zika threat. In February, House and Senate Republicans sent a letter to Obama asking him to make existing funds available immediately. On April 6, he notified us of his intent to repurpose $589 million in unspent Ebola funds for Zika response activities. Yet, in July news reports revealed that only about one-sixth of the funds had been diverted to combat the Zika virus. This came at a time when the White House was pressuring Congress to authorize more funding.
Another reality is that in June, the House passed a final conference report for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Zika Response Appropriations Act. This was a responsible bicameral compromise that allocated $1.1 billion in needed resources to protect the public from the Zika threat. It was fully paid for by leftover funds from the Ebola outbreak and unused federal administrative funds. It also contained strong oversight measures to ensure responsible and effective use of taxpayer dollars for communities to combat Zika. So what happened? Sadly, the compromise bill negotiated by both the House and Senate was blocked by Senate Democrats, not once, but twice. They blocked the $1.1 billion funding bill to combat Zika despite months of demanding action and even voting in favor of that exact amount at an earlier date. In order to gain political advantage before the fall elections, at the last minute, Senate Democrats blocked this needed funding because it does not specifically provide grants to family planning organizations. This shameful political stunt places Americans well-being at risk and is wholly unacceptable.
The House also passed the Zika Vector Control Act, a bill that clarified congressional intent for use of pesticides to prevent diseases and eliminates overlapping permitting regulations— tearing down barriers to killing mosquitoes. Yet, the Obama White House opposed this bill, calling it “unnecessary” even though burdensome new EPA regulations have completely hamstrung chemicals used in mosquito control activities. Despite the fact regulations are already in place, duplicative permitting requirements have made it extremely expensive and nearly impossible for districts to control mosquito populations.
Congressional Republicans have taken important steps to reduce the Zika threat here in Houston and other high-risk areas. Instead of scoring political points by throwing out false accusations, President Obama should commit to work with us and urge Senate Democrats to put politics and filibusters aside and do what’s right for the nation.
By Rep. Pete Olson U.S. Congress, Texas 22nd District