“And I want people to know that while I’m supportive of fully funding the president’s initiative on this, I want to make sure that the money, when appropriated, will be appropriately spent on what we’re trying to address here. … And so, the most important thing I can do to help get the support of my party, to support this initiative, is to be able to go back to them and say, ‘Not only is this money going to be spent wisely, it’s going to be spent only on this. It’s not going to be a gravy train for all sorts of other initiatives that have nothing to do with Zika.’ Because that’s what’s happened in the past and that’s how these things go off the rails.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today held a press conference following a briefing with state, local and Puerto Rican officials on the Zika virus. During the press conference, Rubio expressed his support for spending $1.9 billion to address the issue, but stressed that taxpayer money must only be spent on programs to combat the Zika virus.
Below is a transcript of a portion of the press conference:
Senator Marco Rubio: “From the federal prospective, the president has proposed, and I support the spending of $1.9 billion to help our local and state jurisdictions address what needs to be done on this issue. I had asked the president along with others that about $500 million of unspent Ebola money be repurposed for Zika. The president announced that they would do so this week. There of course remains an unallocated fund and we’ll be working towards achieving that.
“But the real purpose of today’s meeting is to ensure that as the federal government spends $1.9 billion of taxpayer money, that that money is being spent in the right way, on the right things and in the right places. As we’ve seen often times in the past, like after Hurricane Sandy, you all of all of sudden find that areas around the country that had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy were receiving part of that money because they had a politically powerful senator or congressman that were able to get their hands on some of that money. If we are going to spend $1.9 billion addressing the issue of Zika, it should be spent on addressing the issue of Zika. And so the reason why we’re here today is to ensure that we know clearly what the needs are at the state and local level so that those priorities are being funded.
“In that realm, there are four areas that we concentrate on. The first, of course, is the need for improvements in our diagnostics and the ability to diagnose and quickly identify who has been potentially impacted by this and so there are things we can do through the Center for Disease Control and Health and Human Services to improve the availability of diagnostics for patients, particularly at the point of treatment, at the point in a doctor’s office or quickly thereafter, so someone who may be potentially impacted by this would know that they are a carrier.
“The second is the need for vector control, or as we would call, mosquito control. And that’s an ongoing issue, and we’ve talked about it, we are not going to get rid of mosquitos. They been here before mankind walked the Earth, and they’ll be here for a long time. So we’re not going to wipe out every mosquito in the world, but we are going to have to deal with it and there are things that we can do in government to ensure and assist with that.
“The third is, of course, the hope that we can develop a vaccine. That would be the ideal outcome. And to ensure that sufficient federal funding is going to the NIH and other agencies that are providing the basic research necessary to ultimately commercialize a vaccine so that this Zika virus can go the way of so many other issues that have impacted people throughout time.
“But I think the most important message today – there are two very important messages: the first is there is no crisis, this is an issue that we are going to confront, we want to get ahead of these issues. The best way to confront something is before it becomes a crisis, you prevent it. We know how to do this in Florida, we know how to do this in south Florida. Because we are a gateway community, any time there is an outbreak of anything from Dengue to Ebola, we’re on the front lines of it, and we take steps to address it, and we are doing that again. And I have full confidence in our local and state officials’ ability to address this issue, particularly if they’re properly resourced.
“But the other message is government can’t solve this problem all by itself. The majority of the work it will take to ensure that we can protect our people is on people. Meaning make sure that your pool is not going green and it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos. Make sure that when you’re going out, especially in the mornings and in the evenings, you’re using not just sunscreen, but you’re using mosquito repellant. Make sure that you’re protecting yourselves. Make sure that if you travel to a part of the world that’s been impacted by this that you’re being screened to ensure that you’re not a carrier so you don’t infect a partner, or perhaps and most certainly if you’re pregnant, make sure that you are going to your practitioner and getting the advice that you need about future travel, and so forth. I think a lot of this is about going to people and saying there are simple, common sense things you can do not just to protect yourself from Zika, but to protect yourself from any mosquito borne illness, which has confronted mankind forever.
“And so that’s our hope here today, to create both awareness, a sense of understanding that your local officials are involved in addressing this issue in a responsible way. And I want people to know that while I’m supportive of fully funding the president’s initiative on this, I want to make sure that the money, when appropriated, will be appropriately spent on what we’re trying to address here.”
“Passing a spending proposal out of the U.S. Senate is not something you can do from one moment to the next. It takes time. There was about half a billion dollars of unspent Ebola money. We wanted to make sure that money was repurposed so that it can be spent immediately and that’s now been achieved, the president announced two days ago that’s what they’re going to do. And I spoke to Secretary Burwell yesterday and so we had some preliminary discussions about how some of that money should be focused.
“Beyond that, we want to make sure that if there’s any additional funding that’s needed immediately to immediately address this, that perhaps that could be done in an expedited process. Going beyond that, you know through the normal process of how the Senate spends money and the House does it and Congress, I want to ensure that I work with my fellow Republicans in both the House and Senate to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to get my colleagues to be supportive of it. And one of the best things that I can do to achieve that result is to be able to go back to my colleagues in the House and in the Senate and represent to them that not only is this money going to be spent on Zika and only Zika but that it is going to be spent appropriately on programs that actually work.
“And one of the things that we should ultimately aim towards is investing the necessary resources through NIH for the basic research that we need to develop a vaccine. Because if we can develop a vaccine for Zika, your Zika problem, at least here in the United States, becomes much less of a factor. And so, the most important thing I can do to help get the support of my party, to support this initiative, is to be able to go back to them and say, ‘Not only is this money going to be spent wisely, it’s going to be spent only on this. It’s not going to be a gravy train for all sorts of other initiatives that have nothing to do with Zika.’ Because that’s what’s happened in the past and that’s how these things go off the rails.”
The following photos are attributable to the Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio: