Zika Virus

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 8, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity tonight to come to the floor of the House together with a bipartisan group of legislators from the State of Florida to talk about the importance of urgent action on the Zika virus.

Perhaps no story has captivated the anxiety of the American people more than Zika has recently. Neither has a topic more angered the American people, angered people throughout Florida, because of the inability of a Congress and a President and a divided government to put policy ahead of politics and actually address what is a growing public health crisis.

Many issues that we face today--and the Founders intended this--are regional issues, from flooding, to health scares, to infrastructure issues. We have regional representation here in the House. Florida, in the continental United States, is ground zero for the impact of the Zika virus.

What has emerged within the Florida delegation, I am proud to say, is consensus that continues to grow among Republicans and Democrats around urgency. Now, we all have different opinions about the packages that have been proposed. Over the past 6 months, we have seen three primary options:

The President proposed a plan of $1.9 billion over 2 years. That was his initial proposal.

The House proposal had money flowing at about that same rate by reallocating $600 million from unspent Ebola money that was to be delivered over about 6 months, so $100 million a month, depending on how you calculate the color of money.

The Senate reached a compromised plan at about $1.1 billion. Now, I am sure we all have differences of opinions about which plan is best. We have seen that. We have seen demands for votes on the President's plan. In fact, in the Appropriations Committee, we have had to take those votes many times. We have seen the Senate act on their plan. We have seen the House act on theirs.

I had great reservations about some of the elements of the President's plan, and I was honest about this. The President's plan assumed a 2-year crisis instead of just 1. I had questions about that. The President's plan allowed for construction of capital properties on leased lands with no recapture provisions. I had concerns about that in terms of stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The President's plan also expands Medicaid services of taxpayer supported health care in Puerto Rico by an additional 10 percent for any healthcare needs, not just Zika, arguably diluting money going to Zika. Those were my concerns. The system is set up for us to have that debate. It is okay that we have that debate.

Others have great concerns about the House bill and some of the provisions and riders in the House bill. They have objected to those. That is understandable as well.

In the Senate, they reached a compromise around a $1.1 billion clean bill.

We should have these debates early on. Nothing should be rubber- stamped. We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't actually read the legislation, see what is in it, and talk about a contest of ideas. But we can never let those differences lead us to inaction. That is what is at risk in the current Zika debate. We cannot let our differences lead us to doing nothing.

I believe we have a pathway forward around a consensus, clean $1.1 billion package we have seen in the Senate today with my colleague, Curt Clawson, from the State of Florida and others. We have introduced the clean version with no riders of the Senate plan here in the House of Representatives to hopefully give us a platform where we can build consensus around it. I believe that is the way to do it. Drop the riders, fund Zika. Let's do it. Let's do it now.

But at the end of the day, whatever package comes through here, we are called to support it. This is a public health crisis that we must address, which is why, despite my objections initially to the President's plan, I have begun to vote for the President's plan in the Appropriations Committee because the urgency is now, and it is time that we pass a Zika package.

The American people are angry, but they are scared. It is not our job to take the nuances of legislation, the nuances of different colors of money in the Federal budget process, and try to preach at the American people why one side is right or the other. Our job is to listen to the anxiety of the American people and address a pending health concern in a divided government.

The anger is that this issue perfectly reflects the dysfunction we often see in Congress, and it is doing so in the context of a public health crisis. We have to seize upon the better angels in this Chamber and in this town. You see, it doesn't help when either side plays politics with the Zika issue when the first thing that happens after a vote is the two campaign committees rush emails out the door in Members' home districts trying to raise money or blame politics, blame each other.

As a Florida delegation, let us lead tonight in trying to form consensus around a solution on Zika.

In that light, I am happy to be joined this evening, first, by a colleague of mine from south Florida and the Keys, one of the most beautiful districts next to Pinellas County, I would say.

Madam Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Curbelo), a champion and early endorser of Zika funding.


Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, my appreciation to Congressman Curbelo.

Carlos raises an interesting insight, which is part of getting to the bottom of this early on, that, as stewards of taxpayer dollars, what is the money to be used for? Those questions initially are very important. As I mentioned, I had some early objections with the President's plan that I have resigned over that I will support if it is what it takes to get a package done. But what is the money used for? That is an important question for the American people.

One of the questions was: Is mosquito control really a Federal activity? That is a legitimate question. Should we rely on States and localities for mosquito control?

Here is the important thing you will learn when you get into why we need a Federal bill to support Zika. It is about the vaccine development. It is about the research into how do we have a cure and eradicate the Zika virus, how do we partner with States and localities who are deploying resources right now for mosquito control, mosquito abatement and education; but how does the Federal Government also step in in the midst of what is a public health crisis with national implications both to people's health, to their lives, and also to our Nation's economy and Florida's economy? What is the proper role of the Federal Government?

In this case, I believe it is to provide the funding, hopefully at the $1.1 billion level, but I would be happy to support the $1.9 billion as well, whatever it takes to get it done.

Representing the urgency and consensus to get this done, we are joined by a Democratic colleague of ours from Palm Beach and the Broward County area, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Deutch).


Mr. JOLLY. I thank my colleague, Mr. Deutch.

That is the urgency. My colleague, Mr. Deutch, mentioned his family, and birthday wishes are in order.


My wife and I just got married last year, and we are hoping to have a family ourselves. We live within 5 or 10 miles of one of the non-travel-related cases. Folks do understand the anxiety that creates for people in Florida who are hoping to have a family.

Yesterday and the day before--and it created a bit of a buzz--I brought about 100 mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti variety, which are capable of carrying Zika. Through working with the University of South Florida, we were able to get these mosquitoes here to Washington, D.C., because I wanted colleagues to understand the urgency of what happens to families in Florida when they are in the proximity of these mosquitoes.

When I gave a speech with these mosquitoes, do you know what the American people said--hundreds and thousands of people?

``Release them.'' ``Smash the jar.''

Do you want to see Congress work fast?

Expose Zika mosquitoes in this Chamber. We would shut it down. We would scrub the Chamber. People would get tested. That is the anxiety. That is the urgency.

It doesn't know partisanship. It is okay that we have had this debate initially over what the right response is--the President's proposal, the House's, or the Senate's. That is okay. That is doing our job, but it is not doing our job when we let the fighting and debating lead us to do nothing.

We are joined tonight by another leader in our delegation from the panhandle--the Tallahassee area of Florida--a good friend, a Democratic friend, Ms. Gwen Graham.


Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, Ms. Graham. We are down to 4 or 5 minutes. We have two more speakers remaining.

I yield to the gentleman from Pinellas County, Florida (Mr. Bilirakis).


Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, we are about out of time. We have one last speaker.

Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from Jupiter, Florida (Mr. Murphy).


Mr. JOLLY. Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.