Both parties 'playing politics' over Zika funding vote, Iowans say

Ernst: Urgent need for congressional action

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CEDAR RAPIDS — That didn’t take long.

Members of Congress returned to Washington Tuesday after their summer work session and before the day was over both parties were accusing the other of “playing politics” in regards to funding the fight against Zika.

“It was an agreed upon issue between the House and Senate and, unfortunately, the Senate Democrats blocked it,” Sen. Joni Ernst said Wednesday morning about the minority party refusing Tuesday to go along with a $1.1 billion plan to fight the Zika virus.

“Senate Democrats played politics,” she said on WMT AM 600. “They just want to make it a political stance, which is very unfortunate.”

Even though Iowa may seem “a fairly safer place,” Ernst said there’s an urgent need for congressional action because “Iowans are going into areas where Zika has been found and certainly if they are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant we don’t want them to be exposed to Zika.”

She echoed charges fellow Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, made Tuesday after Democrats refused to put up enough votes to bring the Zika funding bill to a vote. The vote was 54 to 46, six short of the 60 votes necessary for a floor vote on legislation.

“It seems that the Senate Democrats want a political issue, not a solution,” Grassley said.

A solution, Grassley added, would be for the Obama administration to redirect billions of dollars of available funds to the Zika response.

Democrats, he said, want to overlook the fact a majority of both chambers of Congress have agreed on significant Zika funding.

“Instead, they want a blank check, knowing that won’t happen, so they can pretend fiscal conservatives don’t care about women and children,” Grassley said. “It doesn’t make sense except as a political stunt.”

Republicans are performing their own political stunts, according to Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire. Grassley and Ernst supported a bill that would shortchange Zika research and treatment because it would prohibit any of the funding to be used by Planned Parenthood.

“It is disappointing to watch Iowa’s GOP Senators vote for a bill that would only partially fund the fight against the Zika virus and would punish women in Zika affected areas by limiting their access to health services,” she said. “It is not the time to play political games and attach partisan amendments to a bill that could literally save lives.”

There was more at stake than the Zika response and Planned Parenthood funding, Ernst said.

The bill also contained funding for military construction, the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

“If you think about Veterans Affairs, think about things going on in the VA, the improvements we need to make, making sure that we are caring for our veterans and providing them the health care they need, that was blocked as well,” she said.

“Unfortunately, rather than work across the aisle on these important measures, Senate Democrats continue to play politics at the expense of public health as well as the health and safety of veterans and our troops,” said Ernst, who sits on both the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

Florida announced seven new Zika cases Tuesday, bringing the total there to 56, according to the state Department of Health. In Iowa, McGuire said, there have been 15 reported Zika cases.

Because of the Senate standoff, the Zika funding is likely to be included in a fiscal year-end stopgap measure intended to keep the federal government operating until Congress returns after the Nov. 8 election or longer.

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