Democrats in the US Senate blocked a federal spending bill on Tuesday (June 28) that would have allocated $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus—a mosquito-borne pathogen that can cause microcephaly and other defects in children born to infected mothers. According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 800 US citizens are estimated to be carrying the virus.
It’s a surprising move, given that Democrats on Capitol Hill have been calling on their Republican colleagues to approve nearly $2 billion in emergency funds to combat the outbreak. But as The New York Times reports, Republican lawmakers have apparently attached policy riders to the legislation that stand diametrically opposed to issues of major significance to the Democratic party, including cuts to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Democratic leaders accuse their Republican counterparts of engineering a bill that was designed to fail. “Loading up the bill with poison pills was the only way Republican leadership could pass a bill without Democratic support, and it is a cynical strategy,” said senator Chuck Schumer of New York in a statement Monday evening.
A few days before the vote, Schumer told the Associated Press that Republicans were trying “to leverage a public health crisis to roll back access to health care for women and ram through an ideological agenda.”
Republicans, for their part, accuse Democrats of prioritizing partisanship over public health. “The Zika virus poses a serious public health threat, and it would be reprehensible for Senate Democrats to block funding that is needed to help keep Americans safe, particularly pregnant mothers and their babies,” said Missouri senator Roy Blunt in a statement.
Meanwhile, the first American baby with Zika-related microcephaly was born in Florida on June 28.