This week the Senate will try again to find 60 votes to pass a bill providing $1.1 billion to fight Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that can cause devastating problems for pregnant women and the children they’re carrying.
You might think anti-Zika funding would be the easiest bill in history to pass. It isn’t as if there’s a pro-Zika constituency out there trying to protect stinging insects. Surely, if we can agree on anything, we can agree that stopping Zika is a good thing.
Alas, we’re talking about Congress, where dysfunction now borders on criminal negligence.
Almost everyone agrees with the $1.1 billion figure. It’s just a small fraction of the federal budget, almost a rounding error. If a bill allocating that money were presented to both houses as a stand-alone measure, it would pass in record speed and the money would be on its way.
But a must-pass, popular measure like the Zika bill often attracts unrelated barnacles, much like a boat left in the lake too long. And in this case, the money to fight the virus is actually part of a much bigger bill that deals with prisoners at Guantanamo, military housing, base closures, restricting bonuses for government executives, even displaying the Confederate flag at veterans’ cemeteries.
Naturally, in such a bloated monstrosity, Republicans and Democrats can easily find something to dislike. Additionally, House Republicans slipped in a few amendments that Democrats found distasteful, like cutting Obamacare funding to pay for the Zika spending.
So each side has spent the last few weeks bitterly accusing the other of sabotaging the Zika money and threatening the health of the nation’s childbearing population. And since it takes 60 Senate votes to do anything, progress has stopped.
Is there anything politics can’t screw up? Why must our political class fight about everything?
Americans are now engaged in deep reflection over the anguish and bloodshed in Dallas, St. Paul and Baton Rouge. The answers to our current quagmire aren’t easy, but surely understanding our bitter, either-or politics is a good place to start. Americans aren’t just polarized. They see very different realities.
And our political community reinforces this brutal us-against-them attitude at every turn. Whatever you think is good, I must think is bad. If I’m winning, you’re losing. Every issue, every concern must be fought to the bitter end. Which side are you on?
The Zika bill is Exhibit A. If we can’t find common ground on a way to stop mosquitoes, how will we ever agree on a way to stop bullets?
Watch this week. There will be another vote on Zika, and if it fails, senators will climb over one another to blame the other side. Meanwhile, mosquitoes will swarm, waiting to create a nightmare our institutions seem powerless to stop.