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What’s behind biting political fight in Congress over Zika funding?

May 24, 2016 at 6:40 PM EDT
In February, the White House issued a $1.9 billion plan for combating Zika virus in the U.S., including provisions for mosquito control, education and research into a vaccine. While GOP lawmakers opposed that plan, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion compromise bill last week. Judy Woodruff talks to Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., for more on the funding debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to Capitol Hill and Washington’s efforts to combat the Zika virus.

Back in February, the White House put together a $1.9 billion proposal aimed at mosquito control, education about Zika, plus boosting research into the virus and a possible vaccine. Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate moved a compromise measure for less than two-thirds that amount over the next year, $1.1 billion.

But the also-GOP-controlled House signed off on a bill for $622 million over six months.

Joining me now from opposite sides of this funding divide are Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Representative Bob Gibbs, Republican from Ohio.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

Congressman Gibbs, let me begin with you.

The administration, as we said, asking for $1.9 billion. The amount you favor is about a third that much. Why not give the administration what it’s asking for?

REP. BOB GIBBS (R), Ohio: Well, what the administration did, that’s just ongoing through the next — at least the next two mosquito seasons.

Our bill, at $600 million-plus, goes to the end of this fiscal year, September 30, and now we’re in the appropriation process, and we will look at that, what we need to do past September 30 of this year going into the next fiscal year and the next mosquito season next summer.

So, we will be appropriating more money, I’m sure, but it’s going to go through regular order and the regular appropriation process. So, we’re on board to make sure to appropriate the money as needed to get through to the end of this fiscal year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Congresswoman DeLauro, it sounds like this is a down payment on this problem. Is that going to be enough?

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), Connecticut: Listen, no, the fact is, is the Zika virus is a public health emergency. It is a crisis.

It is going to — the mosquitoes that carry the virus will hit the mainland United States within the next few weeks. We are putting American women at risk, pregnant women who are fearful that their babies will be born with birth defects.

And we have a medical community that is telling women that maybe they shouldn’t get pregnant. That is not message to the American people. The fact of the matter is, is that the $622 million is a third of what’s been asked for.

You know, in this body, when we deal with appropriations for defense or going to war, my Republican colleagues will say, let us get the word from the generals, from those who are in the field, the experts. They can tell us how much money they need. And they can tell us how many troops we need.

Well, we do have experts in this war on the mosquitoes. We have the Centers for Disease Control. We have the National Institutes of Health.


REP. ROSA DELAURO: We have the scientific community, all of whom said, we need $1.9 billion. And they have documented every cent of that as to where it is going. We need to listen to these generals in the field on this war on the mosquitoes and keep the American public safe and American women safe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Gibbs, it’s not just Democrats who are saying that this is not enough money. One of your fellow Republicans in the Senate, Marco Rubio of Florida, said today that this is not enough money, the $622 million.

He went on to say that he fears that the opportunity to get ahead of this crisis is slipping away. What do you say to him?

REP. BOB GIBBS: Well, I think we’re going through the appropriation process, and if it’s not enough money, we will make — we will do the appropriation bills here in the next few weeks, and we will appropriate more money when we go through and do our due diligence.

But another issue that I need on talk about is my bill, 897, deals with how we control mosquitoes or kill the larvae in mosquitoes here before they hatch. And that’s a bill I had on the floor today, passed with strong bipartisan support. And it gives our states and our local communities the resources, the ability not to have that additional red tape and bureaucracy and don’t waste resources to do their control efforts, to start doing the preventative programs at onset, at the beginning of the mosquito season.

And that’s really important. And a lot of people on the other side of the aisle are not supportive of this. And it’s really something that needs to be done, so our local communities, our mosquito control districts have every tool in the toolbox to start the preventative programs to stop the mosquitoes from growing in population and possibly reaching epidemic proportions of the Zika virus or even the West Nile virus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congresswoman DeLauro, my understanding is, this would — this legislation that the congressman is referring to would loosen the restrictions on the use of pesticides. Is that at least a partial step in the right direction?

REP. ROSA DELAURO: Let me make two — a quick point to you.

We running out of time. And it was Anthony Fauci at the NIH, at the Center for Infectious Diseases, who said that if we wait for the appropriations process, we are not going to be able to do what we need to do to get ahead of this virus.

On the bill that my colleague has introduced, let me be clear, with all due respect to my colleague, it is a phony. It is a sham. It is nothing but trying to weaken the environmental regulations. It exempts, a broad exemption, of toxic pesticides from the Clean Water Act.

This bill was introduced two or three years ago, has nothing to do with Zika. Our states and our municipalities today have the authority in which to be able to control the mosquito population and to — and to deal with it.

This will only pollute our rivers and contaminate our water. This bill that was passed today has nothing seriously to do with controlling the Zika virus. It’s been rebranded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Gibbs, what about that?

REP. BOB GIBBS: Well, even the American Mosquito Control Association has said that we have had communities that are slow to get the preventative mosquito control programs up and going because of this court case that created this problem a few years ago.

And I will just — and the EPA has full control over the current — under current law, the FIFRA, to regulate these pesticides. And if they — and if — these pesticides have — restrictions have to be applied by a certified applicator, who go through rigorous testing and certification by the EPA, and the EPA can step in. They have to keep all kinds of records.

And we saw — we have testimony from mosquito control entities throughout the country that said that they have added the cost to the paperwork. And it also opens them up to litigation, and if they are in violation of the paperwork under the Clean Water Act, they can have fines up to $37,000 a day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congress…

REP. ROSA DELAURO: Really, again, very, very, very quickly, we are — what’s happened is that the emergency preparedness money has been taken away from localities because the CDC has had to shift money, because this Congress, this Republican Congress, will not appropriate the $1.9 billion, which makes it slow for them to deal with surveillance.

The fact is, is that, under emergency circumstances, our states and our municipalities have the authority to deal with controlling the mosquito population. This bill will do nothing to address that issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Gibbs, I want to come back to the…

REP. BOB GIBBS: When it reaches epidemic proportions, then they can do emergency measures, and they don’t have to get any permits. And that’s why they need to start a preventative program like they normally would.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Gibbs, I want to ask you — what this says, though, to women who live in areas that may be affected by this mosquito carrying the Zika virus.

What do you say to women who are worried, who are concerned that the mosquitoes are coming with the warmer weather?

REP. BOB GIBBS: Well, it’s obvious that we have got to do everything we can.

And I think the money that we voted last week in the House to put — start the process moving forward, and I’m sure we will appropriate more money as soon as we learn it’s necessary. We don’t want to create just a slush fund out there with no accountability. So, we’re doing our due diligence.

The president’s request goes out, has no time frame. It just goes on. And so we have got this set until September 30. And before September 30, we can appropriate more money. So, it gets the ball rolling, and my bill gets the ball rolling so that our locals can start their preventative mosquito control programs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 15 seconds.

REP. ROSA DELAURO: What we are saying to women, we’re saying to women that you are at risk, without trying to deal with this with the immediacy that the scientific community has told us about. This is immediate. It’s now in a few weeks. That means this summer.

Women are going to be afraid to go out on their patio. They’re going to be afraid to go to a barbecue. They’re going to be afraid to take their kids to little league because it can put their ability to have children, or, if they’re carrying children, they would be in jeopardy. This puts American women at risk, and this Congress is doing nothing but stalling.

This Republican Congress has said no five times to $1.9 billion, which is well-documented. It’s better documented than the war in Iraq was.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to have to leave it there.

Congresswoman DeLauro, Congressman Gibbs, we thank you both very much.


REP. BOB GIBBS: Thank you.