Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has a lot of Americans scared and confused. In February, President Obama requested emergency funds to fight Zika. Four months later, the virus is still only found in mosquitoes outside the country, and no cases have been transmitted in the continental U.S. But summer is near. Mosquito season is coming, and the Centers for Disease Control is about to release a national rapid response plan. All it needs is about two billion of your tax dollars.
Journalist Jonathan Katz and his wife were working in mosquito-infested Haiti last January.
Jonathan Katz: So we were wearing long sleeve clothing. We were sleeping under a mosquito net that was treated with Permethrin, which is a powerful insect repellent. Our clothes were treated with Permethrin, and we were basically bathing ourselves in DEET every day the way that we always do.
They still got bitten by mosquitoes and came down with the dreaded Zika virus.
Katz: One night in the middle of the night, Claire started to feel sick, and we were wondering what it was for about a day, until the telltale rash showed up and we realized that there was a high probability that it was Zika. And she went to actually get a blood test, and on the day that she went to get a blood test, I had the same rash.
It wasn't long before Zika fever, at least the panic over it, also began hitting the U.S.
Anne Schuchat, Deputy Director, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention: Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought.
As fear over the Zika virus has grown, so has President Obama's request for tax money to fight it, to nearly $1.9 billion dollars.
Both the Republican controlled House and Senate rejected that in favor of smaller amounts. The Senate: $1.1 billion dollars. The House: just shy of $622 million. They'll need to agree before any of it gets spent.
Katz says treating the inevitable march of health scares like Zika and Ebola as emergency crises can overstate the danger and prevent a more rational, effective response.
Katz: There is a constant catastrophism in the media the way that things get covered, and you know part of the reason for that is that it can be the only way to get people's attention. Zika, to use that particular example, is not a catastrophe at the moment. Obviously for you personally that can feel catastrophic, but on the societal level at the moment, it's not a catastrophe.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio says Congress should pay now and ask questions later.
Sen. Marco Rubio, (R)-Florida: We should never allow the inability to agree on how to pay for it to stand in the way of addressing a public health crisis that threatens to become a public health catastrophe.
Republican Congressman Mark Meadows says the real issue though, is understanding exactly where all that money will go.
Sharyl Attkisson: What's your take on the emergency nature of the Zika virus and the request for funding?
Rep. Mark Meadows (R)-NC: Well, obviously it is a healthcare crisis that we have to deal with. Certainly the CDC is - long been a good player in the role of trying to make sure that Americans are healthy and safe, and yet at the same time, we see a lot of these crises come forward and the dollar amount that's requested many times is not well thought out I think would be a good way to put it.
There's some debate over whether Zika is actually to blame in Brazil's epidemic of birth defects called microcephaly. If so, officials can't explain why there's been just a handful outside of Brazil. The CDC and World Health Organization recently concluded Zika is the culprit, but concede "other factors may combine with Zika virus infection to cause neurological disorders".
In other words, there may be other reasons in addition to Zika resulting in Brazil's strange microcephaly epidemic. Eighty percent of people who get Zika don't get sick or have any symptoms.
For those who do, like Katz, it's usually not serious.
Katz: Red eyes, a little bit of the conjunctivitis, some of the joint pain, some of the swelling. Fingers and toes swell up a little kind of like sausages.
He wrote about "Reporting on Zika when you have Zika" for The New York Times.
Katz: Zika was extremely mild. If you are unlucky enough to initially get it, it's not nearly as bad as most mosquito-borne diseases could be, but the jury is still out on what the long-term effects are.
There are mixed signals when it comes to the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil. The World Health Organization says the Zika risk isn't serious enough to move the games.
Whatever questions remain, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says Congress has all the information it needs to act on Zika funding.
Josh Earnest: Ignorance is not an excuse. They've had opportunities to ask their questions. There's ample information that's been provided by the administration.
CDC wouldn't give us a detailed breakdown of exactly how it would spend the money. Here's the general information that's been provided:
Six hundred ninety-nine million dollars would go to Medicare and Medicaid and "Domestic Response"; $416,000,000 to Puerto Rico, the State Department and "International Response"; $335,000,000 for the U.S. Agency for International Development and also to help other nations; $295,000,000 under the category "Other Activities" and $140,000,000 for vaccine development.
Attkisson: A lot of people don't understand this about Washington. When a lump sum like that is asked for, nearly $2 billion dollars, had somebody worked out, "Well, it's specifically for this number of TV ads, to raise awareness on these dates, on these stations, and here's how much it costs," or is this number just kind of thrown out of thin air?
Rep. Meadows: That's a great analysis, and you're right. The American people don't see the thought process because they think as moms and dads on Main Street would think, or business people and say, "Well, if you're going to request a budget, you would have so much that goes for 'X', another amount that would go for 'Y', another amount that would go for 'Z'. And yet, here what we see is from the administration, you know, it's put in very large chunks that are very generic in terms of their scope.
Thomas Frieden, Centers for Disease Control Director: For the CDC's part, we've given specifics. We have a very specific plan. It's our best estimate of what's needed. The situation changes day by day. This is a rapidly changing epidemic.
Even without Congressional action, a half-billion dollars has already been found for the fight. That includes, $85 million tax dollars Health and Human Services steered toward the effort and $500 million dollars of leftover Ebola money.
Rep. Meadows: There's about $2.7 billion dollars we could shift around within 30 days to address this, and so it's time that we get to work and address this healthcare concern.
Attkisson: Shift around meaning not new?
Rep. Meadows: Not new money. Yeah, I think that's the good part is that it was already appropriated money. It's sitting there unobligated to other causes that directly impact the health and safety of American people, and so you can just literally shift the focus there.
Frieden insists that's a bad idea.
Frieden: The real problem with some of the proposals we've seen is that they would rob Peter to pay Paul. They would force us to let down our guard against one problem to fight another problem. You don't defund fighting terrorism in the Middle East to fight it in Africa.
Katz: I'm not saying that there shouldn't be money spent and that Congress shouldn't take this seriously, but I think it's important for everybody as informed citizens to look and see what your representatives are doing, where the money is getting spent, and understand what exactly it is that this money is supposed to do and how it proposes to do it. And then how we're going to know once they're done whether they've done it or not.
Health officials say they don't expect a Zika epidemic here like the one in Brazil because the areas most likely impacted, Texas and Florida, are much less densely populated than the hot zones in Brazil. The U.S. also has better mosquito control.