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Vern Buchanan wants Congress to quickly fund President Obama $1.9 billion request for Zika

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When it comes to pushing for Congress to allocate the $1.9 billion request to handle the Zika crisis, Barack Obama has no greater advocate in Congress than Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan.

The GOP lawmaker penned a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday, urging them to listen to the medical experts and appoint a conference committee immediately to come together to pass the full amount requested by the White House and most Democrats.

“The cost of delay is unacceptably high,” Buchanan writes in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “We are seeing the effect of this disease in Florida, where mosquito season has already begun. Currently, Florida has more than a quarter of all U.S. Zika cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this weekend that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus are expected to enter the U.S. mainland and begin infecting Americans within the next “month or so.”

The Zika virus was first discovered in Brazil last year, and has been linked in that country to more than 1,300 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect defined by unusually small heads.

Last week the Senate approved $1.1 billion for Zika funding – the House only about half that much., with their bill calling for money to be shifted from combatting the Ebola virus to go after Zika. Both proposals are short of the $1.9 billion requested by the president.

Last week, Obama said Congress should not break for the Memorial Day recess at the end of this week until they approved that full amount.

“They should not be going off on recess before this is done,” Obama said. “To the extent that we’re not handling this thing on the front end, we’re going to have bigger problems on the back end.”

The outbreak is expected to reach the continental U.S. in the coming weeks as temperatures rise and mosquito populations multiply.  Communities along the Gulf Coast are considered most vulnerable.

Florida had 152 reported cases of the Zika virus as of Friday, according to the Florida Department of Health. Across the U.S. there are 544 travel-related cases of Zika, according to the CDC.

“I urge you to fully fund the remainder of the CDC’s request and do so quickly,” writes Buchanan. “The lives of thousands of infants are at risk. We must act swiftly to prevent a public health catastrophe.”

Here is the full text of the letter written by Buchanan:

Dear Speaker Ryan, Minority Leader Pelosi, Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Reid:

With funding levels still undecided in the fight against the Zika virus, it is imperative that Congress heed the warnings of our nation’s top health experts and move swiftly and forcibly stop the spread of the mosquito-borne disease.

I urge you to quickly reconcile the differences between the approaches taken by both chambers and provide the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the full amount of funding it needs to fight this disease. Every day we delay in getting a bill signed into law puts more Americans at risk. It’s crucial that you appoint a conference committee immediately to tackle this issue.

The politicians in Washington should listen to the experts who spend their entire lives fighting outbreaks like this. Every second counts if we want to protect the public from the devastating impact of this disease.

CDC Director Tom Frieden has said that these funds are urgently needed for the agency to expand its capacity to test for Zika, create mosquito control strategies and accelerate the development of a vaccine. These are common-sense steps that, if taken quickly, can stop this disease from spreading further.

The cost of delay is unacceptably high. We are seeing the effect of this disease in Florida, where mosquito season has already begun. Currently, Florida has more than a quarter of all U.S. Zika cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this weekend that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus are expected to enter the U.S. mainland and begin infecting Americans within the next “month or so.”

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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