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Washington, D.C. – In a Senate floor speech today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) urged Congress to fully fund the $1.9 billion request to combat the Zika virus, while also beginning to raise concerns about the U.S. House of Representatives’ $622 million proposal.

“[W]hy are we taking this chance? It makes absolutely no sense,” said Rubio. “I would also say that while I am happy that today hopefully the Senate is about to take action on this issue, I’m concerned about what I hear coming from the House. I’m glad that there has finally gotten some movement and that something's happening, but I’m really concerned about the direction their own funding measure is going. Their funding measure isn't even $1.1 billion, it’s $622 million and quite frankly, that's just not going to cut it.

“I believe the House can and should do better than what it’s proposed,” Rubio continued. “Provide offsets to the spending. Provide the $1.9 billion offsets. I guarantee you will be able to find that fairly quickly. Provide stringent accountability measures. Stipulate in the law that you passed, for example, that if we're wrong, if we don't end up spending or needing anything close to $1.9 billion or even $1.1 billion that the taxpayer money is going to be returned to the Treasury.

“But let’s not play with fire here. As of now, there are 112 people in the state of Florida who have been infected. We have many more American citizens who have been infected in Puerto Rico. Many unborn children who are at risk and many more who will be impacted once mosquito season really sets in. At the end of the day, these are the people we should be fighting for, and we can quite frankly do much better than what the House is proposing. Look, this is a devastating disease. It’s taken lives throughout our hemisphere, and the way it impacts unborn children alone should call us to action,” Rubio added.

“Let’s do this once, let's get it right, let's ensure that we're protecting our people, let's deal with this now, let's deal with this fully. This is our obligation and I hope we'll embrace it here today. There is no reason why we should not fully fund this proposal and listen to the doctors and the health care experts that are asking us for this and build from there,” Rubio concluded.

A transcript of Rubio’s full remarks is available below. A video is available here, and a broadcast quality video is available for download here.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
May 17, 2016
https://youtu.be/7hSNa2mhd1k

Senator Marco Rubio: “First of all, let me just begin by saying how encouraged I am that we’re finally seeing some action here in Congress dealing with the Zika virus.

“Today, we have not one, but three separate proposals to deal with this that are going to come up for a vote.

“I support fully funding the requests made. People say ‘the President’s request,’ fine – it came from the White House – but it’s really the scientists’ request, the doctors’ request, the public health sector’s request for how to address this issue.

“The fundamental point that I make is twofold. Number one is, we can pay for it, $1.9 billion, we can find it, and by the way we can always come back later and find it too, although I know that’s hard to see happening here in Washington.

“But this is a public health emergency that cannot wait for this extended debate on this issue, especially when you talk about an $18 trillion debt. Zika funding is not the reason why we have an $18 trillion debt and is not the national driver of our debt. That’s why dealing with long-term security of Medicare and Social Security is so critical.

“But we can pay for $1.9 [billion] and we should. But it is public health experts that have said that the amount we need is $1.9 billion, and I continue to urge my colleagues to take this with the sense of urgency that the public health experts have.

“The people I’ve met with, the people I’ve interacting with, the people I’ve been talking to are not political people. I have not been talking to people in the White House political office. I’ve been meeting with people that work at the Centers for Disease Control. I’ve been meeting with people that work at the Florida Department of Health. I’ve been talking to Department of Health officials in Puerto Rico. I’ve been talking about doctors that are in the front line of dealing with microcephaly and what it means long-term for the children that have been impacted by it.

“That’s who I’ve been talking to, and they’ve outlined the kinds of things we need to be doing, but more importantly what they’ve outlined, is so much we still don’t know about Zika.

“For example, we don't know what the long-term consequences are of a mother who is infected with Zika while pregnant and the child is born with microcephaly. We don't know what happens in six, nine months, a year, five years down the road.

“But I do know that many medical experts believe there will be further manifestations of the disease's impact on the central nervous system in many of these children years after this debate in Congress is finished. I do know that Puerto Rico is being ravaged by this.

“Now Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. These are American citizens that have been infected with Zika. They don't have a senator from Puerto Rico, although I’m more than honored and grateful for the opportunity to speak on their behalf on these issues.

“But what people have to understand – and this is not the right way to approach it – but even if your approach is, ‘Well, but it's Puerto Rico, it's not the mainland of the United States,’ well then I invite you to go to the airport in Orlando or Miami and you can see the daily flights and the constant flow of people back and forth.

“Then we also look at the fact that the summer months are coming. This is a mosquito-borne infection and we know that mosquito season is here, and it's coming fast.

“We know that the Zika virus becomes more potent as temperatures get warmer. Well guess what? It’s about to get really warm, not just in Florida, but throughout the Gulf Coast states and throughout the country.

“We know that places like Brazil have been deeply impacted by the Zika virus. Well, guess what? Tens of thousands of people are about to travel through the United States to and from Brazil for the Summer Olympics.

“We know that Major League Baseball canceled a game in Puerto Rico because they believed it was a serious enough risk not to want to put their players at risk of it, not to mention the crowd.

“We see something that's percolating that we don't know that much about. We know enough about it to know it's a serious problem, but we do not know how far this is going to go. And as a result, we see the people of this country facing a public health threat, and our response should be, ‘Let's deal with it the way that medical experts are saying we need to deal with it,’ and put language in the proposal that says if you don't end up spending the full $1.9 billion, if you don't need all that money, all that money automatically goes back to the Treasury within a year or two if you haven't spent it.

“But why take the chance? Why take the chance that at some point this summer we could have a significant and serious outbreak in the United States of America, and everybody here is going to be back in their home state doing their campaign stuff or whatever you're doing this summer, and you're going to have to come back here and either deal with it and explain to people why, when doctors and medical experts were warning us that this was a significant risk, we decided to lowball it, we decided to spend less than what's being called for.

“Now, I by no means mean this as a criticism of Senators Murray and Blunt. I thank them for their work. They have tried to come up with a bipartisan proposal that can pass. And as I have said earlier, while I am proud of the effort that I am alongside with my colleague from Florida, Senator Nelson, are proposing here today and hope that the $1.9 billion amount passes, if what we're left with is a vote on the Blunt-Murray amendment, I certainly think that's better than nothing and I will support it.

“But why are we taking this chance? It makes absolutely no sense. I would also say that while I am happy that today hopefully the Senate is about to take action on this issue, I’m concerned about what I hear coming from the House.

“I’m glad that there has finally gotten some movement and that something's happening, but I’m really concerned about the direction their own funding measure is going. Their funding measure isn't even $1.1 billion, it’s $622 million and quite frankly, that's just not going to cut it. If we don't spend more than that on the front end, I think we're going to spend a lot more later on because the problem is not going to go away and it's not going to go away with $622 million to combat it.

“This is concerning to me because even if we do manage to pass the $1.9 billion request, I’m afraid long term even that may not be enough. The issue here that seems to be holding them back is the desire to offset spending, and as I said, look, I support that 100 percent. I believe we can find $1.9 billion and transfer it from some other part of our budget to ensure that we're not deficit spending. We can do that, we should do that, I’m in favor of doing that, but that's not going to keep me from trying to do something about it.

“In times of public health emergencies, just like during times of natural disasters, I don't think we should be delaying action while we try to figure out these budgetary moves and trying to agree on what we're going to cut from other parts of the budget. I still believe we should do it, but we cannot hold back for another few weeks while we get to that point.

“Now look, the Administration has already diverted half a billion dollars that was intended for the fight against Ebola, but the House would raid even more of the Ebola funds for the Zika response.

“Now it's easy to say, look, Ebola is not in the headlines anymore. We’re not reading about it that much so it must not be a problem. Ebola still exists. It’s not polio; we haven't eradicated it from the United States or from the world. It's just not a percolating crisis right now.

“But nothing goes to say that this couldn't itself pop up again, and by the way, these sorts of pandemics are going to become more and more common as people now are able to travel and extensively travel all over the world. We’re at the crossroads of a lot of that travel. So I don't think I’m prepared to walk away, although maybe they don't need the full half billion dollars, but I think it would be shortsighted to just say, ‘Ebola is finished, we don't have to worry about it anymore.’ There has got to be some money available in case that comes up again because it could. I believe the House can and should do better than what it’s proposed.

“Provide offsets to the spending. Provide the $1.9 billion offsets. I guarantee you will be able to find that fairly quickly. Provide stringent accountability measures. Stipulate in the law that you passed, for example, that if we're wrong, if we don't end up spending or needing anything close to $1.9 billion or even $1.1 billion that the taxpayer money is going to be returned to the Treasury.

“But let’s not play with fire here. As of now, there are 112 people in the state of Florida who have been infected. We have many more American citizens who have been infected in Puerto Rico. Many unborn children who are at risk and many more who will be impacted once mosquito season really sets in.

“At the end of the day, these are the people we should be fighting for, and we can quite frankly do much better than what the House is proposing. Look, this is a devastating disease. It’s taken lives throughout our hemisphere, and the way it impacts unborn children alone should call us to action.

“You see the images coming from Brazil, you have seen the images coming of these children being born with microcephaly. This is a devastating condition. The cost of caring for those children throughout their lives is extensive and we're going to do it, we need to do it, we will do it. But let's try to prevent this, let’s try to get ahead of this, let's try not to just be reactive but proactive.

“Just today in the press, there are reports that scientists have been able to make a significant step toward potentially creating a vaccine. Once there is a vaccine for Zika, this problem will be under control.

“But let's not play with fire here as I said earlier. I hope that my colleagues will jump on board in fully funding the $1.9 billion, and if you want, let's put language in there that says that if the money isn't fully spent, it will be refunded to the Treasury.

“But why take the chance? Why take the chance on an issue that is not yet well-defined? Why take the chance on an issue that we still don't know everything about this disease? Why take the chance that we could have an outbreak much worse than anything any of us anticipated and we were caught off guard? Why take the chance that you're going to have to go home in August and September and explain to millions of people across this country, ‘Why are so many Americans now being infected by this and you were lowballing our approach to it a few months ago?’ Why take the chance?

“Let’s do this once, let's get it right, let's ensure that we're protecting our people, let's deal with this now, let's deal with this fully. This is our obligation and I hope we'll embrace it here today. There is no reason why we should not fully fund this proposal and listen to the doctors and the health care experts that are asking us for this and build from there.

“That’s what I hope my colleagues will do here today in a few hours when we vote on these proposals that stand before us.”