WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott came to Washington on Tuesday to press for long-overdue money to fight the Zika virus, making his case for the money with top congressional Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan — while blasting away at the Obama administration and Democrats like three-term Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.
"In our state we started having (Zika) cases back in February. I've been asking for Congress to be a partner since then. I've asked for the federal government to do funding. They haven't done it," Scott said Tuesday as he left a meeting with Ryan, R-Wis. "The Obama administration's not been a good partner."
Scott made his trip as lawmakers struggle to reach a bipartisan deal to fund the government's months-long battle against Zika, which is a major hang-up for a temporary spending bill that's the top item on Capitol Hill's slim pre-election agenda. Zika can cause grave birth defects and other health problems, and can be passed on by mosquito bites and sexual contact.
Senate Democrats have repeatedly filibustered a $1.1 billion Zika measure drafted by Republicans, chiefly over a provision sought by anti-abortion forces that is designed to make Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico ineligible for grants to provide medical care and contraception to help fight the virus.
"Bill Nelson, the senator from Florida, basically voted against $1.1 billion in federal funding last week, so he turned his back on Floridians," Scott said. "This is about pregnant women and developing babies and he said, you know, that he was going to play politics instead."
Nelson was unimpressed.
"Just as we're about to reach a deal to pass a clean emergency Zika funding bill, the governor chooses to fly up here and stir things up politically," Nelson said. "He should know better. This is a serious situation, not a time for partisan politics."
As for Ryan, Scott said: "He's going to work hard to get it done."
Obama requested $1.9 billion more than six months ago to battle Zika, but Republicans controlling Congress were slow to respond. The Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion Zika-fighting measure in May, but House Republicans have insisted on making sure Planned Parenthood is ineligible for the new money and have demanded offsetting spending cuts to defray the measure's cost.
Democrats say the money is a true emergency and shouldn't have to be offset. But their chief objection is to the idea that Planned Parenthood should be singled out and made ineligible for money to battle the virus in Puerto Rico. Most Republicans are staunch opponents of Planned Parenthood, which is a major provider of abortions and has come under assault for its practices in providing fetal tissue to researchers.