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Funding the Fight for a Cure

July 18, 2016
Weekly Columns
As the summer months begin, we are reminded once more that the fight against the Zika virus is not over.  The fear of Zika breaching our shores has many Americans worried that partisan gridlock will prevent the government from taking the necessary steps to aggressively fight the potentially rapid spread of this horrible disease.
But Americans can rest assured, our top national health agencies, including the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH), are on the front lines.  Over the past months, both Democrats and Republicans in the House have worked to find solutions to combat the virus, and to provide robust funding for our health agencies to end the spread of Zika. Unfortunately, Democrats in the Senate and the Obama White House continue to put their political agenda ahead of the immediate needs of the American people. They would rather have a phony political issue than a serious effort to ensure funding exists for the long term efforts to eradicate this virus.
Legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives included more than $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus. As the legislation moved through both chambers, Republicans were confident that this would be the ultimate path to immediately begin fighting the disease. But Democrats were eager to put their own political agenda above the health and safety of Americans, as well as putting aside military and veterans’ needs, which were also included in the legislation. Sadly, Senate Democrats made it clear that they would rather have a political issue than a medical solution.
To help fast-track the response to widespread viruses like Zika and Ebola, the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 includes a reserve fund for the Centers for Disease Control to access in times of bio-emergencies. This reserve essentially gives the CDC director immediate access to funds when the need is urgent for widespread diseases. In times of political gridlock, where neither party can agree to move anything forward, this fund helps alleviate the wait for Congressional approval. It has been compared as the “FEMA for health,” where it allows immediate response to epidemic threats, without waiting for Congress to approve the funds necessary to respond to significant threat to the health of American citizens.
The legislation also remained committed to its purpose of funding vital research programs at both the CDC and NIH. In its core, it is a strong representation of American values, and touches the lives of every American. We must always seek to find cures for some of our most dreaded diseases. I am deeply concerned that these efforts are being thwarted  by partisan political shenanigans. It’s not just wrong, it’s irresponsible.