WASHINGTON – Three Valley mayors were among 77 who urged congressional leaders Tuesday to do what everyone seems to agree is necessary – pass stalled legislation to fund Zika virus research before they go on another recess.
The House in June approved $1.1 billion for Zika research that had been shifted from other programs, but the House measure included language restricting funding for Planned Parenthood.
That language has stalled the measure in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the Planned Parenthood cuts and Republicans have not yet budged.
It was the sort of political jockeying that U.S. mayors want to see end in this session and contributed to the urgency of a letter they sent Tuesday.
“The problem that provoked and prompted the mayors to speak out is the political gridlock,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles. “This public health issue has gotten caught up in a partisan political squabble.”
Giles, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell were among those signing the letter calling for action.
Those mayors urged action at a time when the region faces the seasonal rains that could bring a growing threat of mosquitoes, particularly the Aedes mosquitoes capable of transmitting the virus.
“We do have the monsoon season,” Giles said. “It’s humid and wet, and we’re prone to develop mosquitos, and they happen to be good at transmitting Zika.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment, but a spokesman said the mayor shares Giles’ concerns about the upcoming peak mosquito season and a frustration with inaction in Washington.
When President Barack Obama asked Congress for emergency Zika funding back in February, mosquito populations in the Valley were negligible and the threat across the county was minimal. As the months-long political gamesmanship has continued, concerns from mayors have grown.
According to the letter, more than 600 pregnant women in the U.S. have tested positive for Zika. Nearly an additional 1,000 cases plague pregnant women in U.S. territories.
In its first week back after its traditional August recess, Senate Democrats blocked an Republican attempt to end a filibuster on the funding measure, but senators on both sides of the aisle are reportedly working on a compromise.
The measure would have to go back to the House if it is changed in the Senate. But both chambers are scheduled to leave again for recess in October – if not sooner – and continuing until after the November elections.
Giles said when a crisis is so important, partisanship needs to make way for legislation. The threat of Zika in American cities is that important, he said.
“I’m an elected official … and I know there is games in the legislative process,” he said. “Occasionally, they (lawmakers) have to be reminded to prioritize.
“We cannot expose the health of the country. There are times that you’d have to rise above that,” Giles said.