Floor and Committee Statements

“Mr. President, I find it unbelievable that today some in the United States Senate said ‘No’ to pregnant moms and to our veterans. The vote earlier to deny cloture on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Military Construction appropriations legislation and the Zika virus is to say to pregnant moms in America ‘we don't think the case of the Zika virus is that important. You're going to have to run the risk yourself.’ And to say to our veterans who fought and risked their lives for us that ‘we may not fund your health care.’ That is just not the right thing to do.

“I deeply regret the fact that the cloture motion was denied this morning, and I hope before we leave town for this week that Senate Democrats will reconsider and that cloture will be granted so we can approve the VA and military construction appropriations and approve our response to the Zika virus.

“But let me underline how important this vote is in terms of addressing the Zika virus. I represent the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta, Georgia, the world's health care center. I was there a few weeks ago for a briefing on the Zika virus. There are more than one million Zika cases in Latin America and the Caribbean, and there are more than 800 cases in the United States of America.

“The Zika virus is very unique. It attacks a pregnant mom, it attacks the child in the womb and the attack the brain and the central nervous system causing terrible brain deformities. This is something that we hope we can stop and prevent. But you can't do it if you don't fund the nation's response, and the $1.1 billion included this measure that was denied today would go towards the Zika virus response.

“There are two responses we need to fund. One is for research and development of preventive vaccines if we can find them, that’s obviously important. But the other is the education to do the most we can to see to it that the spread of the Zika virus is prevented wherever possible.

“Some people think that if you don't have mosquitoes, you don't have to worry about Zika. However, the Zika virus is transmitted in two very distinct ways. One is through one of two types of mosquitoes, both of which are indigenous to my state of Georgia and most of the southeastern United States. The Zika virus is also transmitted by sexual intercourse. If we don't have a good education process in terms of how people can protect themselves during sexual intercourse against transmitting the Zika virus or protect themselves against bites by the virus carried by the mosquitoes, we are going to be in big trouble in this country. The sad reality is that we’re going to have a lot of babies born who will have lives of tragedy because we didn't do our job as United States senators.

“It is estimated that the cost of a live birth and the lifetime of a child born with the effects of the Zika virus will be $10 million on the taxpayers of America per child. Ten million dollars. Think of the cost that adds up to. We should come to the table immediately and vote again for cloture on addressing the Zika virus – the $1.1 billion response that passed the House and just last month passed the Senate – to see to it that we tell the American people that we understand the dangers of the Zika virus, we're going to do everything we can to provide the education needed prevent it, and we're going to respond quickly and in the right way.

“As far as the move to prevent funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs is concerned, I have never understood anyone who can look a veteran in the eye and say no. As chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, and as one who served in the military, I know what sacrifice means in terms of serving in uniform. To say no to the funding of VA health care is just unconscionable and wrong.

“Our veterans volunteer for the military to protect our country. They deserve to know when they come home that their health care and benefits will be provided for and that the promises we made to them when they volunteered to join our military are promises that we will keep when they come home.

“So as one member of the United States Senate, I can't say no to a pregnant mom and I can’t say no to a veteran. I don’t think anybody here wants to say no to them at all.

“I would encourage the members of the Democratic Party to come back to the floor and join … the Republican Party by voting to advance the Department of Veterans Affairs and Military Construction appropriations bill along with the Zika virus agreement as soon as possible.

“Time is wasting. Time is of the essence. Time is important. Our response is important. Our pregnant moms are important, and there’s nobody more important than the veterans of the United States of America.”