If Congress does not act on Zika prevention funding, lawmakers may be forced to return to Washington during their fall election campaigns for an emergency vote, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio warned Friday.
Rubio and fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo said at a news conference that the Zika crisis will escalate over the summer if funding is not increased, especially if a person contracts the disease after being bitten by a mosquito in the U.S.
"When that moment comes there is going to be, for lack of a better term, a total freak out in the United States about what we are going to do," Rubio said. "Members of the Congress in the middle of their campaign are going to have to stop what they are doing, get on an airplane and fly back to Washington to vote for additional funding."
President Barack Obama has requested $1.9 billion, but the Republican-led Congress has been unable to agree on an amount. The Senate proposed $1.1 billion and the House is proposing $622 million.
Curbelo said lawmakers outside of Florida may not recognize the urgency of Zika prevention as much as people in Florida, which currently has 162 Zika cases, the most in the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has projected that over 20 percent of Puerto Rico's population could be infected with Zika this summer. The infection has had an impact on tourism and Major League Baseball. A Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates two-game series in Puerto Rico was cancelled, costing the island $4.5 million in revenue.
Curbelo said the health issue should not become a political one.
"There should not be an ideological debate about how to respond to the Zika virus," said Curbelo. "Some Republicans in the House are skeptical of the administration making these massive requests."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also pushing the Obama administration to increase funding for insecticides, spraying equipment and prevention kits.
The virus was first detected in Brazil in May 2015. It has led to birth defects in a small percentage of cases and has caused death in the first microcephaly case on U.S. soil.