Durbin, Senate Leaders Call for New Round of Talks on Zika to Produce Bipartisan Bill Free of Ideological Poison Pills Riders
Republican Bill Blocks Funding To Planned Parenthood, Underfunds Vets and Rolls Back Environmental Regulations
WASHINGTON—Ahead of today’s scheduled Senate vote on the Military Construction Veterans Affairs and Zika Appropriations conference report, Senate Democratic leadership released a new letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan labeling the report as both extreme and insufficient and calling for an immediate new round of talks to produce a bipartisan bill free of ideological poison pill riders. The letter, which was signed by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA), outlines how Republicans, despite clear and repetitive efforts by Senate Democrats to work cooperatively on appropriations bills that adhered to the framework of the Bipartisan Budget Act, including a prohibition on poison pill riders, included a number of provisions in the Milcon/VA and Zika Appropriations bill that raise concerns in the context of this framework, and dramatically alter Congressional precedent when responding to emergencies.
Specifically, Republicans have inserted ideological poison pill riders into what should be a bipartisan response to the Zika virus that would limit funding for providers of birth control services, weaken clean water and air protections by waiving portions of the Clean Water Act to allow for greater use of pesticides without EPA approval, omit language prohibiting the display of the Confederate Flag at veterans’ cemeteries, and more.
The full text of the Senate Democratic Leadership letter can be found below:
Dear Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan:
We are writing to express our deep disappointment at the inclusion of several poison pill riders in the Republican-crafted conference report on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Act (Milcon/VA and Zika Appropriations). In the interest of moving ahead as quickly as possible on a sufficiently and appropriately funded Zika response to support women and children, we are writing to urge your cooperation in quickly negotiating an agreement that rejects politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities.
To date, more than 2,600 Americans have been diagnosed with the Zika virus and nearly 500 pregnant women have shown evidence of infection. Already, four children have been born in the United States with birth defects, while four other pregnancies with evidence of birth defects have been lost. From the first moments it became apparent that the Zika virus would present a major public health threat to American women and families, Democrats have been clear that a swift and sufficient response would be necessary. We are fully committed to working with you to negotiate a response that sufficiently rises to this challenge. To that end we are ready and willing to immediately join you in a new round of negotiations on a truly effective, bipartisan package.
Over four months ago President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus. Eventually, the Senate was able to pass a bipartisan compromise that would provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding. Although action in the Senate took much longer than Democrats would have preferred and did not fully fund the President’s $1.9 billion Zika request, the response package that passed the chamber by an 89-8 vote on May 19th represented a significant step forward in our effort to combat the spread of Zika to protect pregnant women and their families.
Yet, instead of quickly sending this bill to the President for his signature in order to send desperately needed dollars to states and territories, medical researchers, and public health professionals, Republicans abandoned the Senate’s bipartisan compromise in pursuit of an unrelated, extreme right-wing agenda. The Zika conference report – which was supposed to be negotiated by appointed conferees from both parties – was crafted solely by Republican conference members and not signed by a single Democratic conferee due to the inclusion of several poison pill riders.
Earlier this year, Democrats made it clear that we were eager to work cooperatively on appropriations bills that adhered to the framework of the Bipartisan Budget Act – including a prohibition on poison pill riders. We have kept our word, and as a result several annual appropriations bill have passed the Senate in a bipartisan fashion. However, the following provisions in the Milcon/VA and Zika Appropriations bill clearly raise concerns in the context of this framework, and dramatically alter Congressional precedent when responding to emergencies.
· The conference report includes a restriction that would limit funding for providers of birth control services – a backdoor way of restricting care from women’s health providers like Planned Parenthood and family planning centers that would have serious consequences for women’s health.
· The conference report would weaken clean water and air protections by waiving portions of the Clean Water Act to allow for greater use of pesticides without EPA approval.
· Congress has long believed that Americans facing an immediate crisis – whether due to flooding, forest fires or infectious diseases – deserve immediate action not bound by the broken budgeting process. By insisting on partisan offsets, the conference report breaks with the longstanding, bipartisan tradition of coming together to put politics aside when responding to a disaster.
Other provisions in the report, such as the absence of a prohibition on the display of the Confederate Flag at veterans’ cemeteries, or a VA funding level that is $500 million below the Senate-passed figure, also raise significant concerns. While all of these provisions may not be addressed with specific votes in the context of the conference report, their inclusion in this partisan product is enough to earn our opposition to a bill that puts politics above public health.
Again, we urge you to abandon these politically motivated, unnecessary poison pills and work as quickly as possible to send a sufficient, bipartisan Zika response to the President for signature as soon as possible to protect women and children from the threat of the Zika virus. We stand ready to work cooperatively with you to address this national public health emergency.
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