Welcome back to work, Congress! We see the Senate picked up right where it left off before its seven-week summer recess — blocking a bill to provide $1.1 billion for Zika prevention efforts because it would bar funding for Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.
While you were out campaigning, fundraising or barbequing, however, the number of Zika cases in the U.S. more than doubled to 2,700, and people infected with the virus have turned up in every state. A total of 17 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects (two in California), and about 1,600 pregnant women are known to have been exposed. And those are just the cases we know about; some 80% of those infected with the disease have mild or no symptoms.
Guess what else is new? The first locally transmitted case of Zika was identified in Florida, and the count is now close to three dozen. Other states are sure to report more, given that the infection that causes birth defects can be acquired through sex as well as a mosquito bite.
These figures come from the nation's top health officials, who have been — with no thanks from you — working hard this summer to keep track of Zika's spread, help local public health agencies deal with cases and develop a vaccine. These efforts were made all the more difficult when you took a reasonable Zika funding compromise and somehow turned it into yet another fight over Planned Parenthood.
The agencies have done an admirable job keeping the anti-Zika work going despite receiving no extra dollars, borrowing from the funds intended for fighting cancer and Ebola. But they are down to the last few millions, and this shell game can't last.
It's up to you now to put aside the reproductive-rights politics and free up money for Zika research and prevention. Congress is expected to take up a measure soon that would be the perfect vehicle: a stop-gap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown. If that bill fails, you will not only endanger unborn babies but also real-live voters.