Spend wisely when fighting diseases

Most of us recognize the danger of spur-of-the-moment spending decisions. We guard against marketing strategies intended to make us reach for our credit cards first and ask questions later.

Too often that is not the philosophy in Washington, where the cost of imprudent spending can be in the billions of dollars.

Zika, the virus that appears to cause birth defects – but has affected only a handful of Americans – is the disease du jour, so to speak, in federal officials’ minds. President Barack Obama wants Congress to give him nearly $2 billion to battle the ailment.

Members of the Senate, in a bipartisan vote, approved $1.1 billion for the purpose. Now, some of them are rethinking that position after the House of Representatives passed a $622 million measure. Unlike the Senate bill, it requires offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Obama is threatening to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. His spokesman calls it “three months late and more than a billion short.”

Lawmakers and presidents of both parties have a tendency to throw money at diseases making headlines, without worrying about who pays the tab. That is one reason we have a national debt of more than $19 trillion.

The House approach is, in effect, to provide enough money to battle Zika effectively for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Then, if more money is needed, it can be provided.

Remember Ebola? Congress provided lavish funding to cope with it. Much of the money is unspent because that disease has been limited, if not eradicated.

Obama should take the $622 million and use it wisely – instead of attempting to use Zika as a political whip to punish lawmakers who, for once, have not succumbed to spending fever.