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Editorial: Zika meets Congressional dysfunction

Congress has left the building. And in its dysfunctional wake, it leaves yet another failed effort at passing crucial emergency funding to fight the spread of the dreaded Zika virus.

For at least the next seven weeks, Florida — which has distinguished itself as ground zero for cases of the mosquito-borne virus — will just have to hope that the worst part of the rainy storm season doesn’t translate into more infections. (Palm Beach County has seen about 12 cases of travel-related Zika.)

It may be a long, hot summer. Mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus breed year-round here, and the number of infections in the continental United States is mounting. On Monday, the state Health Department reported 13 new cases of the Zika virus in Florida — the most reported cases of the virus in a single day.

Moreover, federal officials say they will have to postpone a slew of anti-Zika actions. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have “limited capacity” to help with efforts to counter mosquito populations in the continental U.S. and territories.

It was enough to send Sen. Bill Nelson to the Senate floor — again — to plead with his colleagues to allow a new vote on a stripped-down $1.1 billion Zika funding package.

“We now have 13 more cases, bringing a total in our state to 276, which includes 43 pregnant women – and that’s just one of the 50 states in the union,” Nelson said Tuesday in support of sending the measure to the House of Representatives for reconsideration as a stand-alone bill.

This same bipartisan funding bill, mind you, passed the Senate overwhelmingly in May but ran into a partisan buzz saw in the House.

Senate Democrats rejected a House compromise bill that, while providing the $1.1 billion in funding, came back with policy riders that were essentially “poison pill” provisions. One, for instance, would bar private family-planning organizations in Puerto Rico, including Planned Parenthood, from receiving federal funds to provide Zika-related reproductive health services.

Florida Republicans seemed to fall in line behind House leadership on their version of the bill, chastising Senate Democrats for being disingenuous in their arguments against the House compromise bill.

How disingenuous is it to ask that a bill seeking money to save the lives of real unborn babies — the group at greatest risk for Zika — not contain a rider blocking a ban on displaying the Confederate flag at U.S. military cemeteries? What does that have to do with keeping babies from being born with Zika-related birth defects?

According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 72 percent of Americans — including majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans — support allocating more federal funds to study the Zika virus and prevent its spread.

It is possible that Republicans took their cue from an Economist/YouGov poll conducted July 2-4 indicating few Americans are concerned about contracting the virus. It does seem to thwart efforts by the White House and Democrats to use the threat of punishment by voters to bring about a GOP reversal.

Even a reported 11th-hour plea from the Obama administration — which had clung to its original request for $1.9 billion in Zika funding — went nowhere. The letter to GOP leaders made no mention of the “poison pill” provisions, but urged only “a funding plan that enjoys the bipartisan support needed to secure this critical funding during the short time remaining in the July session.”

It’s unbelievable that this matter failed, much less was up for debate. It’s disheartening that our Congress has reached this level of dysfunction.

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