Have you ever seen a baby born with microcephaly?
If you have, you know it is impossible to not weep at the tiny, misshapen head. To hold such a baby is heartbreaking; chances he or she will grow up are slim. If you have not seen such a condition, I hope you never will.
Clearly, few members of Congress know what this is all about. Otherwise, how could they have possibly gone on vacation without appropriating the funds begged for by those at the Centers for Disease Control?
This is not arcane science. The Zika virus spreading up from South America is carried by mosquitoes. There have been at least 1,956 cases of the Zika virus in the United States, most of them related to travel outside the country. Of those, 510 were pregnant women. Pregnant women who contract the virus from mosquitoes or relatives risk having a baby born with microcephaly. A Texas baby has died of it, and Zika is breaking out in Miami.
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Doctors at the Atlanta-based CDC are worried. They say without a massive eradication of mosquitoes, treatment and speeded-up research, the virus will spread quickly. They asked for $1.8 billion. The Senate cut that to $1.1 billion, but House Republicans adjourned for the summer without appropriating a penny.
A century ago, yellow fever was rampant in this country, killing thousands. It was found to be carried by mosquitoes. A huge government-funded eradication program was conducted, and Americans no longer worried about yellow fever. (It is, however, on the rise because people who contract it abroad bring it back to crowded cities; also climate change is contributing to its spread.)
Back to Zika. Unlike Ebola and swine flu, which terrified more than half the population, Americans are not paying much attention to Zika. Only 12 percent of Americans say they are “very worried” about a member of their family or themselves getting the Zika virus. Yet without government action, Zika poses a far greater threat going forward than Ebola or swine flu.
Millions of Americans who want to cut government spending and government regulations should think about Zika. Without central government direction and funding, Zika could become this generation’s yellow fever. And the longer it takes for a program to be implemented, the more risk there is.
Those who scoff at government bureaucracy and spending should not be surprised that the Social Security Administration says budget cuts being pushed by House Republicans mean that thousands of employees would be laid off for at least two weeks and branch offices would be closed to the public.
Those expecting Social Security payments for retirement or disability would have to wait. The number of beneficiaries has risen 12 percent in the last five years; the SSA budget has shrunk 10 percent because of inflation. More than 1.1 million people are waiting for a hearing to have disabilities evaluated by the Social Security. They will wait much longer if the House guts the budget the SSA says it needs by $762 million, as Republicans demand.
Americans who cheer when candidates propose axing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and staff should not be surprised to hear that at least 6 million Americans are drinking water with unsafe levels of industrial chemicals called polyfluoroalkyls, which are linked to hormone disruptions, thyroid issues, kidney cancer and high cholesterol.
The chemical never breaks down but stays forever in the environment. This is a relatively new toxin the EPA is still deciding whether and how to regulate. Meanwhile, some areas of the South and New England are being told to drink bottled water, just like Flint, Mich.
Zika, Social Security Administration cuts and polyfluoroalkyls in drinking water are just three new issues to pop into our consciousness this summer. There are hundreds of other public safety issues, from food-borne illness to recalled cars to new drugs to children who die in water parks.
As we think about what kind of federal government we want, let’s give a thought to the millions of members of our families who are alive because somewhere government bureaucrats refused to be quiet and accept the status quo even while profoundly upsetting big business.
Hope those vacationing House Republicans don’t forget to wear mosquito repellent.