Protecting Texans from Zika requires action, not gamesmanship

Photo by James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control

Last week, the first Zika-related case of microcephaly was reported in Texas. The next day, for the second time, Democrats in the United States Senate filibustered legislation that could have helped stop the spread of the Zika virus in Texas and across the United States. In doing so, they chose partisanship over sound public health policy and empty words over action.

By now we've all seen how the Zika virus has ravaged much of Latin America, where it's already impacted an entire generation. The birth defects caused by the virus, such as severe microcephaly, are heart-breaking and life-altering. In Brazil alone, it's estimated that more than 4,000 children have been born with the condition. A family who has a child with microcephaly faces an uncertain future of lifelong implications of caring for a child with this disability. Tragically, the most severe cases are life threatening.

No one wants to see that devastation here.

Over the past few months, the virus has spread further north. Locally transmitted cases have been reported in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean. In other words, it's at our doorstep. We're no longer dealing with a hypothetical situation.

Fortunately, this isn't catching us by surprise. For months now, experts at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston, the Texas Medical Center in Houston and others in our state have highlighted the need to prepare for the arrival of mosquitos carrying the virus in the United States. Gov. Greg Abbott has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure Texas is ready for whatever comes our way. And communities throughout the state have wasted no time in implementing measures to track the spread of the virus and to eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitos. Now, as we get further into the summer months, we need a robust, proactive response to fully guard our communities against this virus.

The Senate considered a measure on Friday that would do that. Specifically, it would get urgent resources to public health experts studying the virus, working on prevention efforts, and trying to create a vaccine. It would also provide for immediate preventive needs like mosquito control. Put another way, it would help protect our communities against a virus that indiscriminately targets women and children.

This legislation was also borne out of compromise. In fact, a few weeks ago, not a single Democrat opposed the funding level in it. They argued day after day for the immediate passage of a Zika prevention bill to keep our country healthy. But after negotiations with the House of Representatives produced a compromise bill, Senate Democrats decided to hold this bipartisan, bicameral bill hostage. Now Democrats have decided to gamble with the health of our country, in an attempt to score political points and make Republicans look ineffective. They have — twice now — filibustered the bill they themselves had been asking the Senate to pass.

The excuses given for holding up this legislation don't hold water. Some claim that the bill doesn't include enough money, even though it provides $1.1 billion — the same amount Senate Democrats agreed to before — on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Obama Administration has yet to spend to fight the virus. Perhaps most ridiculous, others have said the bill poses an environmental danger, even though the pesticides in question would still be regulated by long-established federal standards. At the end of the day, Senate Democrats want to talk about the dangers of a massive health threat heading our way but refuse to pass compromise legislation that would protect us against it.

When our children's lives are on the line, representatives of the American people are duty-bound to do more than just talk about it. We're bound to act. But when given the chance to do that, Democrats failed to meet the challenge and threw Congress into gridlock. We need to address the Zika threat now, not later. And we need lawmakers who are willing to turn their words into action.

John Cornyn

U.S. senator, R-Texas

@JohnCornyn

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