WASHINGTON (CN) - For the third time, Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday blocked a $1.1 billion bill to fight the Zika virus, accusing Republicans of sabotaging the bill with politically charged riders.
Democrats said they took issue with provisions of the Republican measure that would have limited funding for birth control providers and prohibit Planned Parenthood from getting grant funds to fight the virus in Puerto Rico.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida - the state hit hardest so far by the mosquito-borne virus - told reporters after the vote that he believes his constituents will understand why Democrats blocked the package "because I have said it over and over, the political riders: the Confederate flag, defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting Medicaid to Puerto Rico."
The Confederate flag rider would have allowed the controversial flag to be flown at military veteran cemeteries.
Nelson said he wants Zika funding and will consider anything, including offsets in a compromise bill, but not the Republican political riders.
Democrats blocked the measure in June and blocked it again 52-46 late Tuesday afternoon in a procedural vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed to surmount a filibuster.
The vote came as Congress returned from a seven-week vacation. During that time, 35 Americans contracted the Zika virus from mosquito bites in Florida according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 2,687 total travel-associated cases nationwide.
Nelson noted that the virus will spread if those infected get bitten by mosquitoes.
"If they get bitten by a mosquito where they are in another state, now that mosquito is infected," he said of the 2,722 infected Americans. "That mosquito then goes and feeds on an average of four people for one dinner. And there are more cases than we know about."
The Zika funding measure was attached to next year's military construction and veterans affairs spending bill, a normally uncontroversial spending package. Tuesday's vote highlighted the political impasse in an unusual election season.
Senate Republicans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, accused Democrats of trying to score political points by blocking the bill. In a quiet moment after the vote, Rubio took the Senate floor to scold them for doing "nothing, and called it a "moment of truth" for Congress.
"We simply cannot afford to wait any longer," he said to mostly empty chambers. "My message to both parties and both chambers is this: Zika is not a game. If you think it is you should take your game somewhere else."
Nelson said the path forward is perhaps another vote, though he offered no timeline.
"At some point the American people are going to say look, are you kidding me? Especially when the women start having fetuses that are either brought to full term or not, that have microcephaly. I think that's going to send a message," he said, referring to the Zika-linked birth defect that causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads and can cause developmental delays and death
Nelson pointed the finger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky.
"The person who hasn't delivered the Zika funding bill is Mitch McConnell. We already passed it in the Senate - clean - without the political riders," he told reporters when asked about Zika as a wedge issue in the upcoming election.
"If McConnell would insist that the House not put the political riders on it, we'd have it done," he added.