Republican lawmakers used to believe that whatever ills were facing the country at a given moment, the solution to them was always tax cuts. In 2016 though, it looks like the new solution to all our problems is defunding the Affordable Care Act.
With the news that Zika-carrying mosquitoes were found in the central tourist district of the city of Miami, calls have begun to intensify for Congress to return from recess and pass a bill funding research and relief efforts against the deadly disease. One of the top Republicans in Congress, however, has what he thinks is a better idea.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Friday released a sarcasm-laden letter that he had sent to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell suggesting that the agency strip funding from a planned advertising campaign aimed at getting the uninsured to sign up for care under the ACA and divert it to Zika prevention.
“I write to express my surprise at published news reports indicating that the Administration is planning a new advertising campaign to promote Obamacare’s exchanges,” McConnell wrote. “I am interested in knowing what resources the Administration believes it has for such a campaign and why it believes that such funds would be better spent propping up the failed Obamacare exchanges than other important public health priorities - such as preventing the spread of Zika.”
McConnell’s letter suggests that the administration did not specifically ask for funds for the campaign in its budget request and that Congress did not allocate them. “If the Administration has identified alternative sources of funding for this Obamacare advertising campaign, wouldn’t those funds be better allocated to other public health priorities, such as Zika prevention, response, and treatment activities?”
The letter fails to mention the fact that Congress has, for months, failed to pass legislation that would fund a response to the disease. Democrats in the Senate have resisted Republican attempts to vote on a House bill that uses the must-pass bill as a vehicle to move partisan proposals. A bipartisan Senate compromise is now stalled in the House of Representatives.
“As the threat of Zika grows, it is shameful that House Republicans have failed to work on a bipartisan basis to ensure that the necessary resources are available to respond to this public health emergency,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (R-MD) said in a release Friday. “Congress must act to pass the Senate’s Murray-Blunt compromise – free of any poison pill provisions – so that we can prevent the virus from spreading further and keep Americans healthy and safe.”
At the moment, there has been no indication from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) that he plans to call a special session to deal with the Zika funding issue.