The end result will probably be that Congress leaves town for most of July and August without approving any funding that government health officials say they badly need to keep Americans safe from the Zika virus — and, by extension, Zika could become a campaign issue this November on both sides.
Here's what happened.
First, a debate over money
In May, with summer approaching, we asked what was taking Congress so long to send a check to government agencies to start developing a Zika vaccine and launch prevention measures. The Obama administration wanted $1.9 billion in new funds, and I explained why they were most definitely not going to get it:
The reason is the same it always is with Congress: money. Specifically, different ideas between Republicans and Democrats about what's worth going further into debt for.Republicans are hesitant to approve more than a billion taxpayer dollars to fight Zika. And they control both chambers of Congress, so any funding increase that's not offset by savings somewhere else in the budget is squarely on themThe House proposal for $620 million that doesn't extend any cash beyond this fall, when the fiscal year we're in comes to a close.
But lawmakers did find a compromise: They settled on $1.1 billion. The Senate passed a version last month, and House lawmakers passed their own version last week that was offset by some $750 million in savings -- including cuts to the Affordable Care Act and yet-unused money for the now-passed Ebola scare. Depending who you're talking to, the additions to the House bill would end up derailing the entire thing.
Sidetracked by other issues
As the funding package was passing the House of Representatives last week, Senate Democrats actually walked away from the negotiations.
As is often the case in Congress, this funding bill was attached to a larger, unrelated bill — this one funding veterans and the military. And as often the case in Congress, House leaders shaped the bill so that a majority would vote for it; in a conservative House, that meant making the bill more amenable to conservatives.
The end result was a proposal Democrats said was untenable. They accused Republicans of adding on a bunch of unrelated extras that Republicans knew would be red lines for the other side.
DeBonis reports Democrats weren't happy about the idea of voting for a bill that cut President Obama's signature health-care achievement. They also didn't like that the bill proposed loosening government regulations on pesticides.
And they definitely didn't like that the bill restricted $95 million of federal grants to provide services like birth control to women in Puerto Rico. Democrats — and the president of Planned Parenthood — called it a direct attack on the women's health-care organization that's been the target of conservative Republicans' ire for a year now:
The bill also dropped a provision to ban the Confederate flag at federal veterans' cemeteries — a ban that the House, including 84 Republicans, voted in favor of just a month earlier..
"It’s like we’re being dared to oppose this legislation,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Monday. “We have no choice.”
A loss for Zika help, a win for partisanship
Senate Democrats tried to reopen negotiations at the last minute, but it didn't work. The bill came to the floor and Democrats voted no, with Reid calling it "outrageous," and "shameful."
It failed Tuesday 52-48. (Even though a majority voted for it, the Senate needed 60 votes to pass it — the bar for pretty much any controversial legislation these days.)
Republicans hit back that Democrats were the ones playing politics.
"This is ridiculous," House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement.
"I'll tell you what shameful is," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) after the vote, standing alongside a blown-up picture of a baby with a disease thought to be caused by Zika. "That's allowing more women of child-bearing age to contract the Zika virus so their babies can end up looking like this. That's shameful."
Cornyn also said this was probably the "last shot" to approve Zika funding this summer, and he's probably right: The House is already on a week-long break, and when members return after July 4, both chambers have nine days in session before they're out for seven weeks.
There's still a slim chance Congress will find a last-second compromise. Both sides are loath to go back home to constituents, especially in Southern states that are most at-risk, and try to explain this. The takes are already starting when it comes to which party will fare worse for this Zika fail.