Congress fiddles while Zika looms

While the U.S. Congress votes hundreds of billions of dollars for military expansion, it is squeezing health programs vital to the people. As Congress’s reaction to the threatened Zika epidemic shows, the capitalist health care model kills.

In response to Zika, the Obama administration requested in February that Congress allot $1.9 billion for emergency measures to prevent its spreading in the United States. The funds would be used to develop a vaccine, pay for tests and treatment, and discover methods of containing the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

The Senate voted to allocate $1.1 billion of new funds. Then House reactionaries reduced this to $622 million and insisted that money be diverted from funds earmarked for a possible recurrence of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which killed over 28,000 people. The White House calls this amount “woefully inadequate” and threatens a veto if the House vote carries. Even some right-wing South­ern politicians want more funding, as their states are vulnerable to Zika.

While not rendering most sufferers acutely ill, Zika presents a danger to developing fetuses. The virus can cause microcephaly, characterized by small brains and brain damage, and even fetal death. It is also associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a potentially paralyzing, even deadly, neurological disease. The virus can be spread by sexual contact.

Outbreaks of Zika have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean. Puerto Rico reports 1,100 cases, with 129 involving pregnant women. (U.S. News & World Report, May 20) As of May 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 544 U.S. residents, including 157 pregnant women, have been infected.

As Congress squabbles over Zika allocations, other health programs are being hit hard. The National Institutes of Health is trimming its malaria, tuberculosis and influenza programs to finance research for a Zika vaccine. The CDC moved $44 million from public health emergency grants for states and cities to Zika funding. This money is part of the $589 million the White House has transferred from other programs (mostly efforts targeting Ebola) to fight Zika while awaiting Congress’s resolution.

Needed: medicine for people, not profit

This theft from vital health programs hides that there is enough money to pay for the fight against Zika and other disease outbreaks, as well as an Ebola recurrence. Here are some budget items whose funding does nothing for the workers and oppressed people of this country:

First, there’s the Pentagon budget of over $600 billion a year — and that’s only what is publicly reported. Billions more are covertly funneled to military and intelligence agencies. Also, eliminate the $1 trillion allotted to develop “smarter” nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.

Second, there’s the $300 billion that the government pays annually to big banks for interest on federal loans.

Third, eliminate all tax loopholes and gimmicks. Penalize all corporations that do not pay income tax. Last year, 27 profitable corporations did not pay a cent of this tax. (March 7, USA Today) Only 10.6 percent of federal revenue comes from corporate income taxes, reported the Pew Research Center on April 13.

Tax breaks for the super-rich and big business reduce government revenue by billions, even trillions of dollars — money that could be used for health care and other human needs. It could fund research, prevention and treatment programs for Zika and every other disease — and still pay for expanded Medicare and/or Medicaid for all.

But here’s the reality: This is a medical crisis in a capitalist country. Reactionary billionaires oppose government spending on public health and their political representatives fight allocations for it.

What the masses of people really need is a socialized health care system in a socialist society, where the government’s role is to organize, prioritize and provide everything that is needed to meet disease outbreaks and medical emergencies — and provide free medical care — without political resistance.

Cuba provides a stellar example of how the Zika crisis can be handled with a slew of preventive public health measures. We have to fight for a socialist system that puts people’s needs first and relegates the war machine and profit-hungry banks and corporations and their politicians to the dustbin of history.