Clinton’s message Tuesday was more of a position statement than sincere call for action. She knows as well as anyone that congressional Republicans won’t heed her advice: They certainly haven’t listened to other calls for a shortened recess from their Democratic counterparts or Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one of the only GOP members to push for more robust funding. But her appearance on Tuesday in swing-state Florida may help Democrats frame Zika as a campaign issue, and presents Democrats as the party more willing to get funding passed.
Congressional Democrats have publicly chastised Republicans on Zika as the available funding for agencies steadily shrinks; they accuse GOP members of turning a public-health issue into a political one. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, recently predicted that current funds, repurposed from existing coffers by the Obama administration in the spring, will dry up by the end of September. Republican members of Congress criticized the administration for asking for additional money while officials were, in their estimation, not spending the existing funds quickly enough.
Efforts to pass additional Zika money hit a wall in the days before Congress left town in mid-July. Senate Democrats twice blocked a $1.1 billion funding package negotiated in conference meetings between congressional Republicans; they oppose provisions that would restrict money from going to Planned Parenthood affiliates, loosen pesticide regulations, and glean funds from Obamacare. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said recently that Democrats could “end their filibuster” on the funding package “and simply give unanimous consent to pass the conference report and send it straight to the president this week.”
Clinton, who earlier this year endorsed the Obama administration’s original $1.9 billion funding request for Zika, doesn’t support the Republican deal. On Tuesday, she pushed for a separate, bipartisan $1.1 billion funding package that passed the Senate back in May.
The first cases of local transmission in the country were confirmed in late July, when Congress was already in recess. This week, public-health officials began investigating possible local transmission in Palm Beach County, Florida, and a child with Zika-related birth defects died in Texas. On Tuesday, Clinton argued that additional funding now would prevent future cases. “This is always a problem on the brink of a public-health challenge,” Clinton said. “If it hasn’t happened to you, if it hasn’t happened to somebody you know, it’s hard sometimes to get people mobilized. But this is an epidemic that will only grow and affect more people.”