Cuts to emergency preparedness take center stage

Updated
In recent weeks, the right’s efforts to politicize the Ebola virus have focused on blaming President Obama for … something. It’s not entirely clear what Republicans disapprove of, though the party clearly hopes voters are terrified and that the politics of fear produce GOP gains in the midterms.
 
But as it turns out, there’s another side to this coin, and suddenly, it’s the left that’s focusing on a way to connect Ebola to the political debate in a more direct way. Sam Stein had this report yesterday:
As the federal government frantically works to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and as it responds to a second diagnosis of the disease at home, one of the country’s top health officials says a vaccine likely would have already been discovered were it not for budget cuts.
 
Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has “slowed down” research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.
 
“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,’” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”
That “10-year slide” is not an exaggeration. We learned this week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness budget really has been cut roughly in half since 2006. Stein added that the budget for the National Institutes of Health hasn’t fared much better, with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases facing particular budget heat over the last decade.
 
When politicians, usually on the right, talk about the importance of “cutting spending,” they rarely say where, why, or to what effect. It’s simply supposed to be an a priori good – to cut spending, according to the rules of the game, is to have succeeded in an obvious way.
 
But we’re occasionally reminded that budget cuts have consequences, and while emergency preparedness may seem like an easy cut for politicians when there is no emergency, those budgetary decisions sometimes look unwise as circumstances change.
 
And this week, it’s given Democrats an excuse to try to turn the tables on Republicans who’ve been convinced that Ebola is a political winner for the GOP.
 
As Rachel noted on the show last night, part of this includes a very aggressive new ad from something called the Agenda Project Action Fund, which tells viewers, “Republican cuts kill.” The ad is set to air in Kentucky, and may yet reach other markets.
 
What’s more, as Jonathan Weisman reported, Democratic officials are also trying to take the offensive: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled an Internet banner advertisement charging Republicans with undermining the Ebola response by cutting funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while protecting tax breaks for special interests.”
 
To be sure, online banner ads aren’t expensive, so this hardly constitutes a major DCCC initiative, but this appears to be a Democratic effort to dip a toe in the waters, while considering a broader message push.
 
Congress’ likely next step now seems obvious.
Hours after the head of the National Institutes of Health declared that the United States would have already produced an Ebola vaccine if federal health budgets had not been slashed over the past decade, Congress is scrambling to increase funds to try and combat the deadly virus. 
 
A bipartisan plan to increase the amount of money Congress allocates to agencies such as the N.I.H. is now a top priority in the appropriations committees of the House and Senate, according to an anonymous Democratic Senate aide who spoke to Bloomberg News. The injection of new dollars would be added to a funding bill aimed at keeping the government running past December 11.
Better late than never?
 

Ebola

Cuts to emergency preparedness take center stage

Updated