Senator Lankford Blasts Senate for Spending Extra $1.1 Billion on Zika Without Paying for it
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WASHINGTON, DC– Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor on his disappointment with the Senate’s failure to find $1 billion in the existing budget to pay for the US response to Zika virus. Lankford filed an amendment that would have authorized the use of unobligated, existing funds from US Departments of State, Health and Human Services (HHS), and US Agency for International Development (USAID) to use for Zika virus research and prevention, rather than adding $1.1 billion to the national debt.
On May 12, Lankford delivered a speech on the Senate floor to urge Congress to prioritize spending with already-appropriated funding for responding to the Zika virus. On May 10, Lankford wrote an op-ed about the importance of prioritizing spending.
On the current Senate plan to respond to Zika virus:
The President has asked for $1.9 billion for Zika. The Senate has now responded back to say, we’ll do the $500 million the President’s already moved over from Ebola funding and add to it $1.1 billion and come up with about $1.6 billion, almost $1.7 billion, about $200 million short which is being compared as grossly inadequate to be that .2 short from what the President had asked for. There is also being thrown around about the house proposal saying the house proposal is grossly inadequate to be able to cover what’s being discussed there. A little over $600 million. The president wants $1.9 billion. The house is offering $600 million. But what’s not being stated is: what the Senate has done and what the President has asked for is $1.9 billion over two years…the house has said a little over $600 million this year added to the Ebola funding that was already there, meaning $1.1 billion this year and then in our normal appropriations process to take it up again next year. It may be the same amount. And so it becomes very fascinating to me to say they’re cutting into a half and it’s insulting and it’s all these things. I just think it’s the same numbers, they’re just cutting the times to be able to break down the different numbers.
On Lankford’s solution to respond to Zika without adding to the national debt:
We do need to deal with Zika, but we also need to deal with Zika in a fiscally responsible way. And the assumption that to deal with Zika means we have to throw the budget out, and there’s no way we can find $1 billion in a $4 trillion budget to cover Zika is laughable. So what I propose is something very simple. Right now the Department of State, HHS and USAID have $86 billion in unobligated balances right now. There is absolutely no reason $1 billion of that could not be moved in to deal with Zika right now, to do the exact same proposal that Senator Murray and Senator Blunt have proposed but to actually do it with the unobligated balances. There is no reason that wouldn’t occur. $500 million have already been moved over from Ebola funding. That would be $1.6 billion moving into to be able to fight Zika.
On what is already being done to combat Zika virus in the US:
The real issue with fighting Zika is three simple things. CDC actually tracking the movement so we can stay attentive to it. The second thing is dealing with mosquito population. That is aggressive spraying. And the third thing is working on a vaccine. All three of those things we can do, and all three of those things have already begun. The research has already begun on the vaccine. The mosquito spraying has already begun. And working through the tracking of the movement of the disease has already started. The implication that somehow nothing can start until this Body acts is not true.
On the Administration’s lack of priority to fund the Zika virus response:
Ironically in January and February they (Administration) came and held hearings on that, but in March of this year, two months ago, this same Administration took half a billion dollars out of the Economic Support Fund that Congress had allotted to them last December, which was earmarked especially for—get this—infectious diseases. So in March of this year, the Administration took half a billion dollars out of the infectious diseases account for international infectious diseases and moved that over and gave it to the UN for the Green Climate Fund. And now they come to us high and mighty and say we need a billion dollars. When the half a billion that we had already allotted that could be used right now, along with the half a billion from Ebola, equaling billion, was already allotted by Congress, was already there, and could be in operation right now. And they chose to re-allocate it to a different priority. So it really disturbs me to hear the Administration saying how come you’re not doing anything about this when we did last year, and then they spent that money on Green Climate Fund rather than spending it on Zika. What it was allotted for, infectious disease control.
On being fiscally responsible and responding to Zika virus:
So here’s my issue. We need to do both. We need to deal with Zika and we need to do it in a fiscally responsible way, and we can. And I understand the term emergency. It means one simple thing here — spend more. Spend more and add more debt immediately because this is an emergency. I don’t think Americans believe with a $4 trillion budget that we cannot cover a billion from previous accounts…We can be efficient in what we do and still treat things seriously, and I think we should. I think it’s fiscally responsible to not just say the Zika virus is moving quickly so we need to add more debt to our children to respond to it. I think we can take care of our debt and take care of Zika…this is not about Zika anymore. This is about breaking the budget caps. We need to be responsible in our spending and responsible in how we deal with Zika. Both of them can be done.