Q: The White House asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funds to fight the Zika virus. That was nine months ago. Congress approved $1.1 billion only in late September, but those funds won’t be released for months. What would you do to protect the American people, ensuring that when you are president, epidemic and disaster emergency funds get where they are needed — fast?
Haggling among the House, Senate, and White House over Zika funds was the key emblem of Washington dysfunction in 2016. For months, the GOP House leadership refused to approve funds unless the bill also banned payments to Planned Parenthood and permitted flying the Confederate flag in military cemeteries. During the months of this petty back-and-forth, federal agencies — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, chiefly — borrowed money from countless other research and health funds until even those ran out.
Meanwhile, Zika infected up to one-quarter of the Puerto Rican population; the Republican governor of Florida begged for federal assistance; and vaccine and other areas of research were slowed. Americans were forced to simply cross their fingers or stock up on bug spray, hoping the Zika virus wouldn’t end up in their backyards. The world watched in jaw-dropped amazement: America, the country that has called for global readiness to fight epidemics and bioterrorism, can’t manage to appropriate a dime when faced with a real-and-present danger?