Monday, August 8, 2016

In Congress: the Zika Games

For the purposes of this discussion, let's think of Congress as a fetid pool of ideologues.

In frosty February, many weeks before mosquito season, President Obama foresaw an emergency and acted on it. He requested $1.9 billion in funds to combat a disease seen as threatening Americans. Time was on our side.

Came spring's thaw, and summer, and, well . . .

It is now mid-August, and Congress has patty-caked the time away as Zika cases paint a splatter portrait in red, a swarm approaching America from the tropics.

The problem is that while Republican leaders agreed to budget something -- about half of what Obama requested, $1.1 billion -- they attached riders that they knew Democrats, and the president, would not accept.

Then they left on summer vacation.

Those riders included funding cuts for Planned Parenthood. Interesting. That's one of the agencies on the front lines that would be able to help avert pregnancies for women infected with Zika. (One of those trivial matters anti-choice zealots want us to ignore is that most of what Planned Parenthood does is help prevent pregnancy.)

But that wasn't the only "poison pill" Republicans attached to what they all agreed was vital emergency legislation.

They attached wording to undo legislation to prohibit Confederate flags on federal cemeteries.

They attached wording to undo EPA restrictions on the use of pesticides over water, though the pesticides in question have no bearing on the fight against Zika.

Initially they worded the bill to partially fund the Zika fight from funds going to health-care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, and from already allocated dollars to fight Ebola.

In other words, congressional Republicans do what they always do with allocations the nation needs desperately: play ideology games.

As the summer Olympics approached, a lot of Americans were pointing derisively at what appeared to be a tragicomedy of errors, Brazilian-style, with Zika and water pollution playing prominent roles. Well, at the moment those games look pretty solid, and right now, as the Zika infections frighten Florida, the joke is on us in our inability to do something just about every one of us agrees must be done.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that, after the Democrats protested about shifting monies from the Affordable Care Act and other sources, Republicans agreed to provide all new money in the $1.1 billion bill. True. But they couldn't and wouldn't resist the politically drenched riders attached to the legislation, riders which were inviting a veto, just like the 62 times Republicans in Congress have voted to abolish the Affordable Care Act.

Mosquitoes incubate in inert water, generally in compact and isolated quantities, much like the gerrymandered constituencies to which many in Congress owe their longevity. Generally, the key to keeping that seat is to do nothing, to perform Kabuki theater rather than anything that appears to be governing.

Though the Zika threat remains without a significant federal response, something encouraging happened the other day relative to the nation's health. It didn't happen in Florida but in Kansas.

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a major carrier of the tea party strain of political contagion and obstruction, was routed in the GOP primary by Roger Marshall, a more moderate and traditional Republican. Marshall campaigned against Huelskamp's tendency to posture and demagogue, the Sen. Ted Cruz way, rather than do anything to make things work in Washington.

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times, "A veteran Republican House member told me years ago that the safest vote was always 'no,' that it was hard to get in trouble by opposing things."

At last, however, Hulse writes that a defeat like Huelskamp's may signal "that lawmakers need to again begin saying 'yes' once in a while."

What? And disrupt a fine vacation?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

No comments: