Zika and the Democrats

Obama is sitting on money and methods to slow the virus. Instead he blames Congress.

Miami police office Michelle Albelo hands out cans of insect repellent on August 2.ENLARGE
Miami police office Michelle Albelo hands out cans of insect repellent on August 2. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

The Zika virus is only beginning to hit the U.S. mainland, but its political exploitation is already an epidemic. To wit, the Obama Administration that is sitting on money and methods to reduce the Zika outbreak is using the virus as a political bludgeon to elect more Democrats.

A Zika outbreak hit Miami this week, and the Centers for Disease Control on Monday advised pregnant women to get checked for possible exposure. Women in Miami are being told to cover up, stay indoors and wear insect repellant because the virus can cause malformed brains in the womb. These are sensible precautions, but it would be better if the government wasn’t dysfunctional in spending the money it has and eradicating the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

About 6,400 cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S. and its territories, though only one in five who are infected show symptoms. Most cases in the continental U.S. have been individuals who have traveled to regions with an epidemic, particularly Latin and Central America. While the virus can be transmitted sexually, it is commonly spread by mosquitoes. The infection risk peaks in the summer.

The White House that is responsible for public health is trying to blame Congress while ducking its own failures. “The keys here are sitting with Congress, and they have to turn them to unleash more federal funding,” White House press secretary Eric Schultz said Friday.

He should talk to Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer because Senate Democrats blocked Zika funding. The Administration in February requested $1.9 billion for Zika research, education and prevention. Last month the Senate and House agreed to a $1.1 billion compromise that was offset by $543 million in leftover ObamaCare funds when Puerto Rico chose to expand Medicaid rather than set up exchanges. The bill also temporarily waived duplicative permitting requirements for anti-mosquito pesticides.

But Senate Democrats blocked the conference report, inventing the excuse that the bill banned funding for Planned Parenthood, restricted access to birth control and gutted the Clean Water Act. None of this is true. Planned Parenthood wasn’t specifically identified on a list of public health clinics and community health centers eligible for funding, but it also wasn’t barred from receiving federal funds as a sub-grantee.

Even with Congress on vacation, the Administration currently has $385 million in reprogrammed Ebola funds at its disposal. Only about half of that has been obligated, which Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall attributes to bureaucratic federal procurement regulations. Yet the Administration continues to insist it needs more money even though it can’t spend the money it has fast enough.

President Obama is fond of executive action, yet in this case he hasn’t taken lawful steps on his own to arrest Zika’s spread. For example, the Food and Drug Administration could expedite the approval of a genetically engineered male mosquito pioneered by the British company Oxitec. Due to a mutation, the mosquito and its offspring die before reaching maturity, substantially shrinking the infectious population in a few months.

Trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and Panama have shown a 90% reduction in the mosquito population within six to nine months, and the World Health Organization has endorsed Oxitec’s strategy. The FDA accepted Oxitec’s application for a field trial in the Florida Keys five years ago, without notable action.

Despite the FDA’s finding in March that the modified mosquito posed “no significant impact” to the environment, the company hasn’t received clearance to conduct tests. Environmental activists have stirred up opposition in the Florida Keys that appears to have scared the federal bureaucracy. How about getting your government moving, Mr. President, instead of passing the buck to Congress?

As Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution explains nearby, bureaucratic intransigence is also partly to blame for the slow development of a Zika vaccine. Clinical trials would have to be conducted in areas where Zika is widespread, which currently means Puerto Rico. The FDA imposes strenuous requirements for studies that could make it hard to prove a vaccine is safe and effective. There’s often little incentive for companies to invest in research that might not pan out or produce little profit.

Democrats are calling Republicans obstructionists in hopes that frustration with government and an anti-Trump wave will deliver them the Senate and perhaps even the House in November. But the root cause of Washington’s Zika pathology is Democrats who are exploiting the virus to score political points.



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