The White House should drop its objections to a $1.1 billion plan to combat the Zika virus if it really wants Puerto Rico to start spraying for disease-carrying mosquitoes, congressional Republicans said Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency last week told the island territory to ramp up its aerial bug-killing efforts because Zika is spreading on its own there and could start infecting dozens of pregnant women per day.
The CDC said it will help the island set up the type of mosquito control unit that vulnerable parts of the U.S. mainland have, while spending $500,000 to help Puerto Ricans dispose of old tires where mosquitoes breed.
In a letter to President Obama, four Senate Republicans and two House members said the administration is undermining its own advice by crying foul over a provision in a Republican-drafted Zika proposal that would temporarily roll back permit rules in the Clean Water Act.
Pesticides to kill mosquitoes are already regulated by the EPA, so forcing sprayers to gain a permit “adds time-consuming, costly red tape that discourages regular aerial spraying for mosquitoes.”
“Eliminating this unnecessary, duplicative permit requirement will encourage communities to spray for mosquitoes on a regular basis and help alleviate the burdens on our public health system by preventing the spread of Zika today, rather than reacting to it tomorrow,” the Republicans wrote.
Senate Democrats launched a filibuster last week to stop the Zika bill crafted by Republican leaders from either chamber, saying the funding is inadequate, that the legislation should fund contraceptives at Planned Parenthood and that it undercuts environmental protections in a rush to eradicate virus-carrying mosquitoes.
Republicans say they have freed up plenty of funding for women’s health at public agencies, hospitals and Medicaid managed-care clinics in places with active transmission of the disease.
The CDC has recorded 2,474 cases of Zika by mosquito bite in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico and two other territories — American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are the only places in the U.S. that have recorded locally transmitted cases of Zika, though scientists fear the virus could spread on its own in the states and the District of Columbia this summer, as mosquito season reaches its peak. So far, officials have documented 1,132 travel-related cases on the mainland.
“If the administration does not work with Congress to address this potentially life-threatening issue, the Zika crisis in Puerto Rico will certainly spread to the continental United States, threatening the health and safety of all Americans, especially women of childbearing age and millions of unborn children,” the Republican letter says.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana signed the letter, as did Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, and Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
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