In all likelihood, Congress was never all that close to finding a way to push past factional politics and fund efforts to fight Zika. Lawmakers have adjourned for recess after a failure to find common ground on the issue, and as my colleague Nora Kelly notes, the divide comes mostly over the same political issues that hold up any congressional productivity. Despite ample evidence of the virus’s severity, Republicans balk at the idea of expanding public-health funding and executive spending, or they propose “poison-pill” measures—such as raiding the Ebola fund—as counterproductive solutions. Congress seems relatively lukewarm about finding a solution, but that inactivity could cost it much more in the long run.
Aside from the besieged citizens in Puerto Rico, the impacts of Zika are distant concerns for most Americans. So far, it has been a disease that has mostly affected poor people in Latin American countries, a virus that—like Ebola—embodies the stereotype of developing-world plagues. It has feasted on favelas in Brazil and has been carried through the Caribbean, enabled by environments where mosquitoes thrive and public health is under-equipped, prompting travel warnings from the Centers for Disease Control for pregnant women or couples who may be considering conceiving, but not much in the way of concern for health in the country more broadly. Congress’s lack of concern about Zika mirrors that of the public. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, only 16 percent of all people are very worried about Zika as a public-health threat.