While House Democrats were holding an all-night sit-in to demand a vote on gun control, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tried his best to act like it wasn’t happening.
At about 1 am on Thursday, while drowned out by cries of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" from Democrats and partially blocked from C-SPAN’s cameras by protest signs, Ryan held some procedural votes on when the House would reconvene to vote on emergency funding to address the Zika virus. The votes were held at 2:30 am, and the Zika bill passed.
It was a surreal moment, the likes of which Washington insiders say they’ve never seen. But the actual content of that Zika bill, which passed the House, really was business as usual for congressional Republicans: It conditioned government funding for women’s health on excluding Planned Parenthood.
Zika causes severe birth defects, and it can be sexually transmitted. Helping women prevent pregnancy is an important part of Zika prevention efforts. Yet part of the Republicans’ bill effectively excludes Planned Parenthood from distributing birth control under a $95 million grant program.
Republicans have threatened government shutdowns over Planned Parenthood before, and they consistently offer spending bills that gut or eliminate funds for low-income family planning clinics through the Title X program. Yet they’ve also tried to argue that women could just go to Title X clinics or other providers if Planned Parenthood were to be defunded. That’s nonsense, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has explained; Planned Parenthood is too integral to the health care system, and other clinics just wouldn’t have the capacity to take over for it.
Democrats and reproductive health advocates were outraged at the Zika bill.
"The bill the GOP pushed through last night makes a mockery of the Zika health crisis that so many Americans are concerned about," said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. "House Republicans' constant claim that they’re out to ‘protect the unborn’ falls flat when this bill undercuts the very protections women need to bear healthy children."
Not only did the bill fall short of what President Obama had asked for, but most of the funding was also offset by spending cuts — which isn’t typical for emergency funding, and which Democrats said could set a dangerous precedent. Moreover, most of those spending cuts came from Obamacare, and Ebola virus funding also took a hit.
"It is unthinkable that in the face of a public health emergency, Republicans chose to pass a hyperpartisan proposal that doubles down on using women’s health as a political football by restricting access to women’s health care, like contraception, which is especially critical to preventing the spread of this virus," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in a statement.
"This is important progress in our efforts to protect Americans from the Zika virus," said Ryan in a statement. "With this additional funding — on top of what we have already allocated — the administration will continue to have the needed resources to address the Zika threat."
That’s assuming that Obama will even sign the bill, though. He threatened to veto an earlier package that had the same controversial pay-fors, although that package only offered about half the funds that this one does.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest released a statement saying that while the details of the plan are still being reviewed, it’s clear that Republicans "have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies." He added that it’s "four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus."