Party Leaders Give Accusatory Introductory Remarks After 7 Week Recess

The Republican and Democratic party leaders gave critical speeches of their rivals across the aisle this afternoon, in their first day back since the summer recess began in July. The two politicians painted pictures of discord caused by the other side around the flashpoints of Zika funding, which will come to a vote today, defense funding, and partisan intransigence.

McConnell

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened by emphasizing how much needs to get done, and underlined the twin issues of Zika and National Security funding at the top of his list of priorities.

He criticized Democrats in the chamber for filibustering those appropriations. Mr. McConnell said that there is “no good explanation for blocking these important funding bills.”

He praised the work of the Centers for Disease Control and reported that they had informed him of reduced Zika transmission in areas sprayed to exterminate mosquitoes.

Mr. McConnell also noted what he called increased threats from North Korea, and continued attacks by the Islamic State worldwide.

“I hope our colleagues will join us now to end senseless filibusters,” he finished.

Reid

Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader, criticized the long summer break. He called the 7 week pause the longest he had seen in sixty years.

“The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it,” Mr. Reid charged.

He countered Mr. McConnell’s argument that the Democrats bear responsibility for blocking Zika funding.

“We offered compromise to Republicans but they said no to compromise,” he claimed.

He called Zika a growing threat and accused Senate Republicans of stalling while the virus spread, and recited the list of cases in US states and territories. 17,000 cases have been reported, 1,600 of which are pregnant women.

He charged that the Zika bill House Republicans sent back is impossible to pass because of sections in it Democrats find unacceptable. One such section are the cuts to the Veterans Administration, part of funding offsets demanded by the House.  A provision allowing the continued flying of the Confederate flag over military installations was called “unacceptable” by the minority leader.

Along with objections to the makeup of the funding bill, Mr. Reid also complained about reports that Republicans may seek to pass continuing resolutions to fund the government through the next year.

He called the use of a continuing resolution “a permission slip to Congress not to do its jobs next year.”

Mr. Reid cited the need for immediate action on campaign finance reform, college tuition reform, gun control actions, and the continued refusal of the Senate to hold meetings with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We have a logjam of important legislation that [the majority leader] created,” said Mr. Reid.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Senate Poised for Fight over Zika Funding

The Senate will vote tomorrow on legislation that could provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus. The coming months are peak mosquito season, and there are fears among health officials that if action is not taken there might be an explosion in incidence of the mosquito-borne disease.

A Centers for Disease Control Interim Response Plan released earlier this month warned that “local transmission of Zika virus in US territories and affiliated Pacific Island countries is ongoing.” It also noted that “neither vaccines nor proven clinical treatments are expected to be available to treat or prevent Zika virus infections before local transmission begins within [the Continental United States] or Hawaii.”

The Majority and Minority leaders both addressed the bill in their opening statements. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said that combating the spread of the Zika virus should be a priority of both parties. He then accused Senate Democrats of playing partisan politics over funding.

Harry Reid, D-NV, accused the Republican package of being “full of poison pills.” He says that with cuts to Obamacare, Ebola funding, and provisions prohibiting funding in the bill from being directed to Planned Parenthood “it’s like we’re being dared to oppose this legislation.” Democrats are also upset that the bill falls short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration requested.

The bill has already made it through the House, but even if it does pass the upper chamber the administration has warned it may veto it. This week is the last week for the Senate to address the issue before a long July 4th recess.

The Majority Whip, John Cornyn, R-TX, called the shifting of funds from other programs better than deficit spending.

“I hope we will act with dispatch,” he said, commending the Obama administration for reprogramming $589 million from the Ebola fund to face the Zika threat. He called for support of the bill, and echoed the Majority Leader’s accusation against Senate Democrats.

“They can either play politics at the expense of women and children across the nation, or they can support the bill.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger