Isakson: Zika Funding Is Not A Political Game

A guest Op-Ed by Georgia’s Senior Senator Johnny Isakson, as originally published in the Savannah Morning News:

Georgia’s beautiful coast, temperate climate and scenic outdoors beckon to folks worldwide to visit our state and are prized by those of us who call the Peach State “home.”

Unfortunately, those geographic factors also lure the most unwelcome of guests: mosquitoes. While mosquitoes have long been known to spread disease, the latest virus they are spreading, known as Zika, is a more serious threat. It not only infects individuals via direct contact, but can be spread person-to-person, and to future generations in the form of severe birth defects.

Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also located here in Georgia, is among the most important research and medical facilities in the world. The CDC has made incredible advances in eliminating terrible diseases such as Ebola. Now the Zika virus is in the CDC’s crosshairs.

In its own backyard, the CDC identified early that the Zika virus was a serious threat to public health and requested emergency funding from Congress for additional research on necessary preventative measures, treatment and the development of a vaccine.

I have made it a priority to regularly visit and meet with CDC officials, and after hearing of the threat of Zika virus, I immediately worked to assist the CDC by sharing with my colleagues in Congress the critical need to address the Zika virus. In April, I brought U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key member of the Senate committee that appropriates federal funds, to the CDC for a briefing on efforts to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

On May 17, 2016, I voted for bipartisan legislation that was passed by the Senate to allocate $1.1 billion in emergency funds to combat the spread of the Zika virus in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives followed suit and overwhelmingly passed its own funding measure.

President Obama and Senate Democrats also spoke publicly about the need to act on funding to address the Zika virus. Unfortunately, in the midst of a divisive political season, my Democrat colleagues in the Senate did not follow their words with actions. Instead, they chose politics over public health.

In July, the Senate voted twice to move forward on funding to help eradicate this threat, and twice it was blocked by Senate Democrats.

After Democrats first voted to block Zika funding, I joined CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden at a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing. Together, we reiterated the urgency of the crisis posed by the Zika virus and the level of resources that the CDC needs to adequately control its spread. I urged Senate Democrats to put aside political games and help the mothers and babies crying out for help.

Just last week, I sent a letter to President Obama, along with many of my Georgia colleagues, demanding answers about how the administration will respond to the Zika virus in Georgia when current funds are depleted.

We can have our differences on many issues. But we must do everything we can to get the resources in the hands of the CDC to develop a program of prevention against the Zika virus.

For a woman who becomes pregnant today, she won’t know for nine months if her baby has a birth defect from Zika. But nine months from now is too late. We need to help every mom and baby we can today, and that’s why I’m focused on passing this needed funding as quickly.

The final legislation pending before the Senate and being blocked by Democrats is the final report that irons out the differences between the legislation that passed the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

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