Dems ask for hearing on Ebola response funding

Democrats on a House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are calling for a hearing on funding to combat the Ebola outbreak.

In a letter Tuesday, Democrats on the panel wrote to Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, requesting an October hearing to discuss the issue. 

“When Congress returns from the November elections, we will have to determine the funding necessary for these agencies to respond to these public health crises before the Continuing Resolution expires,” they wrote to Kingston.

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The letter was signed by all five Democrats on the subcommittee: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Mike Honda (Calif.).

The congressional panel is one of several responsible for determining funding to the agencies at the forefront of the Ebola response, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. 

The Democratic lawmakers noted the cuts to the government’s public health infrastructure in recent years. NIH’s purchasing power has been reduced by 10 percent in the last four years and the CDC’s program to help state and local public health professionals has been cut by 16 percent, they argued.

Other congressional panels have held hearings on Ebola in recent weeks, but the Democrats told Kingston the full Appropriations Committee hasn’t heard publicly from the CDC or NIH since March. 

Their letter echoed other Democrats’ recent concerns about whether the government has enough money to adequately respond to the Ebola crisis.

The U.S. is assisting in the international effort to control the outbreak in West Africa. But fears have grown that the disease could spread after health officials confirmed the first domestic Ebola case, after a Liberian man traveled to Dallas, Texas with the deadly disease.

The House Homeland Security Committee also plans to hold a hearing on Ebola at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Friday, amid calls for the government to implement tougher screening measures for passengers or a travel ban for affected countries.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also planned a hearing for next week.

A continuing resolution approved last month by lawmakers to fund the government will expire on Dec. 11, leaving Congress with only a few weeks to pass a new spending bill when they return on Nov. 12, after the midterm elections.

House appropriators are working toward an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government until the end next September, aides have said.