WASHINGTON – The head of the government's fight against the Zika virus says that "we are now essentially out of money" and warns that the country is "about to see a bunch of kids born with microcephaly" in the coming months.
Friday's warning from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden came as lawmakers start to sort out a stopgap government funding bill that is being targeted to also carry long-delayed money to battle Zika.
Zika is spreading more widely in the U.S. and can not only cause microcephaly - in which babies are born with grave brain defects - but other problems that the country will face for decades.
Frieden said funding delays have slowed long-term studies of the disease and production of new tests for it. "We haven't been able to get a running start" on a long-term battle against Zika, he said.
Frieden said that "we don't like to see" the use of pesticides such as Friday morning's spraying of naled, in Miami Beach, but added that new technologies for the application of such toxic chemicals are safe for humans. Freiden said that the two localized mosquito-borne outbreaks in Miami are "quite difficult to control," adding that the mosquitoes that spread Zika "are the cockroach of mosquitoes."
President Barack Obama in February requested $1.9 billion to battle Zika, but Republicans controlling Congress acted slowly on the request. A Capitol Hill fight this summer stalled the Zika aid. Republicans attached restrictions on any of the money going to affiliates of Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. Democrats objected and blocked the $1.1 billion bill.
Since then, Zika has spread more widely, and frustration is mounting from lawmakers representing affected areas.
"Look if we don't, then fire all of us," said Florida GOP Rep. David Jolly, whose state is bearing the brunt of the disease in the continental U.S. "If we can't get Zika funding by the end of September then we're nothing but a bunch of idiots up here."
Now, negotiations are underway to break the impasse over Zika and add it to the only piece of legislation that has to pass Congress before the election: A stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1. A bipartisan consensus is emerging to fund the government through mid-December, though some House tea party conservatives are opposed and want a longer duration for the measure to avert a lame duck session of Congress.