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Opposing GOP leadership, Vern Buchanan calls for full funding to eradicate Zika virus

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Unlike some of his GOP colleagues, Sarasota-area Congressman Vern Buchanan is calling on the House of Representatives to support an additional $1.9 billion in funding requested by the Obama administration in February to contain and eradicate the virus.

“Zika’s shadow is spreading too quickly in Florida, which has one quarter of all the Zika cases in the United States,” Buchanan said. “The rest of the country should keep in mind that summer is coming and so are the mosquitoes. Congress needs to act quickly.”

Buchanan says he is basing his decision on recent developments, including the first fatality on U.S. soil and new research revealing that Zika eats away at the fetal brain and destroys the ability to think. Researchers also say they have learned that up to 29 percent (not 1 percent as originally believed) of pregnant women infected with Zika showed fetal abnormalities. New evidence also shows that the disease can be sexually transmitted in addition to being carried by mosquitos.

“There’s a reason why the public has lost confidence in Washington – and this is the latest example,” Buchanan said. “Instead of working together to protect Americans, Washington has descended into another partisan fight, with both parties blaming each other for inaction on a growing and deadly health threat.”

The White House has already moved to redirect $589 million in existing funds to Zika, most of it from Ebola response programs. Funds were also taken from other emergency preparedness programs, which has state and local jurisdictions warning that they may be unable to address other non-Zika threats. But their request for $1.9 billion has gone nowhere in both the House and the Senate.

Two weeks ago there appeared to be a deal iamong Senate appropriators in which a smaller sum, about $1 billion, would be provided in emergency Zika funding as an amendment to one of the 2017 spending bills. But the Washington Post reports that plan collapsed, partly due to an unrelated issue regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

Among the reasons that Republicans are balking is that they the request for the $1.9 billion is “supplemental” funding – that is, an emergency request that goes outside of the regular process for appropriation bills, and are generally not subject to budget caps. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week the administration could use some of the leftover money at existing accounts to combat Ebola to address immediate needs with Zika, saying, “there is enough money there, especially to deal with this year.”

That argument isn’t resonating with Buchanan.

“There’s a reason why the public has lost confidence in Washington – and this is the latest example,” he says. “Instead of working together to protect Americans, Washington has descended into another partisan fight, with both parties blaming each other for inaction on a growing and deadly health threat.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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