House Dems: Lack of Ebola funding hearing 'unacceptable'

House Democrats who oversee the funding of agencies involved in the Ebola response said Wednesday it’s “unacceptable” their panel’s top Republican won’t call a hearing to evaluate resources on the ground.

"As we mourn the death of Thomas Eric Duncan and pray for the two health care workers infected in Dallas, we reiterate our call for Chairman [Jack] Kingston to convene our subcommittee immediately," Democrats on the House Appropriations Health subcommittee said in a joint statement.

Duncan, who died last week, was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Two hospital workers who treated Duncan have been infected with the deadly disease. 

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In a letter last week, the Democrats asked Kingston (R-Ga.) to convene an immediate hearing to discuss funding to agencies tackling the Ebola response, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The letter was signed by Democrats Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the panel’s ranking member, and Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Mike Honda (Calif.).

"The Homeland Security Committee met nearly two weeks ago, and an Energy and Commerce subcommittee will meet tomorrow. For our subcommittee, the one in charge of funding the NIH and CDC, to continue to shirk its responsibility and go without so much as a hearing is unacceptable,” they said in their statement Wednesday.

Asked why Kingston hasn’t responded to his colleagues or hasn’t convened a hearing, House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said, “The Committee currently has no hearings scheduled as the Congress is in recess.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have politicized the issue of Ebola as the Obama administration attempts to contain and eliminate its spread with fewer than three weeks to go before the midterm elections. 

Republicans have blasted the administration’s response to the disease, while Democrats have largely blamed limited resources on what they have said are budget cuts pushed by the GOP.

The CDC's budget authority in 2010 was nearly $6.4 billion, but fell to $5.8 billion in fiscal 2014. Likewise, budget of NIH peaked in 2010 at $31.2 billion and fell to $30.6 billion this year.

According to the Republican side of the House Appropriations Committee, however, the budget authority isn’t the only thing Congress approves for the CDC. The agency also receives transferred funds from other agencies, emergency funds and allocations from certain public health funds.
 
Congress approved a total of nearly $6.8 billion in 2010 and of $6.9 billion in 2014 — both higher than President Obama’s budget requests, according to the committee’s majority.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Huffington Post last week cuts to his agency have impeded the development of an Ebola vaccine.

"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 said. "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." 

— Updated at 5:03 p.m.