Looking for quarantine from Zika fallout


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The failure of a Zika-fighting bill in the U.S. Senate has led to a battle over who's to blame for the standoff, and left Florida figures trying to stake out safe ground on an issue where their interests might not always neatly intersect with their national parties' positions.

Things kicked into high gear Tuesday, when Senate Democrats refused to allow the chamber to bring up a $1.1 billion bill targeting the virus, over objections to components in the bill dealing with issues like funding for Planned Parenthood and whether Confederate flags can be displayed at military cemeteries.

The Senate vote came on the same day that Florida confirmed its first case of Zika-related microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.

Democrats blamed Republicans for loading up the House-Senate compromise with unrelated measures, and for not providing enough money to confront the disease. Annette Taddeo, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014 and a congressional candidate this year, slammed Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo over the scope of the bill.

"Once again, Carlos Curbelo failed the people of South Florida," she said. "Instead of passing a clean Zika emergency funding bill, Curbelo and his Republican buddies turned their backs on Florida families and children, and left town without solving the problem."

In turn, Republicans like Congressman Dennis Ross pointed out that it was Democrats who stymied the bill in the Senate. He raised the specter of Americans who would be traveling through Florida on their way to and from Brazil, one of the epicenters of the Zika outbreak, for the Summer Olympics.

"Senate Democrats are playing political games with American and Floridian lives, and it must stop immediately," Ross said." I call on all of my colleagues to put politics aside and put this legislation on the president's desk, so we may all band together to protect those who put us in office --- The American People."

Other Republicans, though, tried to spread the blame more broadly, or at least distance themselves from their party's stance on the issue. Sen. Marco Rubio, who recently decided to run for re-election, took a pox-on-both-houses posture in his statement on the failure of the Senate to break the Democratic filibuster.

"We've been on top of this issue for five months, and it's a failure of both parties in this town, including the President of the United States, that it's taken this long to even get to this point," Rubio said. "This total Washington leadership failure will have devastating consequences on those Americans already infected with Zika and many more who will become infected in the coming months."

And U.S. Rep. David Jolly --- who is running against former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, in one of the toughest re-election campaigns for an incumbent in Florida --- wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan pleading with him to get something done.

"While I share the concerns of many on our side of the aisle regarding certain elements of the President's proposal, such as his failure to include offsetting spending cuts, the debate has now gone on too long," Jolly wrote. "We cannot let our differences lead us to inaction."

On Thursday, Democrats moved to open another front in the battle. Congressman Patrick Murphy's office released a letter signed by nine Democratic U.S. House members --- pointedly absent was Congressman Alan Grayson, Murphy's opponent in their party's Florida U.S. Senate primary --- calling on Gov. Rick Scott to expand Medicaid and walk back restrictions on funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood.

"As we continue working in Congress to provide the state with the full federal funding needed to combat the Zika virus, Governor Scott needs to step up," Murphy said in a statement. "Expanding Medicaid and restoring family planning funding are not just good policy, but the right thing to do for Floridians."