While the Zika virus spreads in the US and other nations, the US Congress has fiddled like Nero in Rome. The debate has been over a relatively small amount of funding to be used for research and prevention of this mosquito-borne disease. Meanwhile, the number of cases in the US has tripled and continues to grow.
After months of delay and with mosquito season intensifying, the Senate and House have each passed Zika bills – but with funding levels greatly reduced from the initial White House request. Now the House and the Senate must conference to reconcile their differences, a process that can take weeks.
Those of us who await the birth of a child or grandchild find the sluggish and inadequate response of our Congressmen and Senators to be abhorrent and inexcusable. The same Congress that deals with trillions of dollars in budgets is unable to settle expeditiously on this relatively small but crucial budget item, despite a pernicious and growing viral threat to lifelong health.
The debate lumbers on while Zika-infected mosquitos breed. Should the monies allocated to the fight against Ebola stay put for future use, or should those funds be reallocated to Zika? The difference between those two approaches amounts to a speck in the US budget. Why has it been so difficult to make a decision?
If the federal government’s budget were passed thoughtfully and legitimately instead of being squeezed through at the last minute without thoroughgoing dissection and debate, one might have a case for saying that a $500 or $600 million reallocation is significant. However, all who observe the lunacy of congressional budgetary deliberations know that $500 or $600 million has become a rounding error in the process.
In my view, both houses of Congress and both parties share responsibility for impacts caused by the spread of Zika. If someone dies from this disease, blood is on those officials’ hands. If a child suffers from microcephaly, the burden of care is imposed on all of us. You in Congress will have created that pressure on the budget. The suffering of families afflicted by the disease will be the result of your inability to make a suitable decision in an expeditious way. You have fiddled like Nero while a preventive apparatus has remained unfunded.
The spread of Zika is a war-like threat. Would the US Congress deliberate for months if there were a direct military threat to our nation? No, it would act immediately. We have to wonder about those whom we elect to govern us when they are the only ones who seem to be ignorant of the seriousness of this disease.
At Cumberland Advisors, we publish numerous commentaries that are read worldwide. We discuss unfunded pensions and the need for budgetary balance and governance; we tackle credit structures and investment policy. These matters are all important, but when there is a public health emergency from a known threat, a virus that can be fatal or highly damaging, we feel obligated to speak out.
I hope readers agree and will freely participate in urging to action the officials who have yet to represent us well in the fight against Zika, even as the virus’s spread becomes harder to control. If they do not act now to fund the fight against Zika, we must vote them out of office and stop sending them money and attending their political events. You can tell them why you feel they did not represent you in the way this country should be run.
The Congress has let us down. The Zika disease rate in the US has tripled according to the CDC. Sadly for many, the number of cases is likely to go much higher as mosquito season intensifies and the Congress plays a game of catch-up.
David R. Kotok is Chairman and Chief Investment Officer at Cumberland Advisors