Dems, GOP play Ebola politics

Dems, GOP play Ebola politics
© Getty Images

Democrats are trying to turn GOP-backed budget cuts to health agencies into a bigger political issue, seizing on the Ebola outbreak to argue the cuts have slowed the U.S. response.

They are pointing their fingers at the sequester, which introduced automatic spending cuts to the government in 2013 that Democrats say hurt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).


Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback MORE (D-Md.), top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told The Hill the bulk of the cuts were “dictated primarily by the sequester,” and argued Democrats and President Obama have offered proposals that would repeal it.

“All you have to do is compare the budgets and you’ll find the president’s budget and budgets proposed by the Democrats had more responsible funding levels for these agencies — funding levels that would allow them to fulfill their responsibilities in a more effective manner,” he added.

Democrat after Democrat has launched into the issue.

Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions On The Money: Trump to meet China's vice premier during trade talks | Appeals court says Deutsche Bank doesn't have Trump's tax returns | House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey to retire DeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief MORE (D-Conn.), said Republicans have “neglected” health agencies since they took over the House majority.

“From every version of the Ryan Budget to the Budget Control Act and sequestration, our crucial biomedical research and response institutions have been forced to do more with less, and sometimes less with less,” said DeLauro, the ranking member on the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “That needs to end.”

Republicans, for their part, have argued it was the White House that introduced the idea of the sequester, which enforced mandatory spending cuts across the government to defense and non-defense budgets.

They have also criticized the administration for a slow response to the Ebola outbreak, while arguing it should do more to prevent the spread of the disease to the United States.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was among several lawmakers who questioned why the Obama administration was not imposing inspections where people could enter the country.

“Recent events highlight the need for elevated levels of screening at U.S. ports of entry,” Portman said. “The time for action has come and gone and the CDC has yet to answer why they are resisting this next commonsense step that is long overdue.”

The CDC’s budget in 2010 was nearly $6.5 billion, but fell to $5.8 billion in fiscal 2014. Likewise, the NIH budget peaked in 2010 at $31.2 billion and fell to $30.6 billion this year.

The sequester introduced spending cuts in fiscal year 2013 after a super committee of lawmakers failed to agree to spending cuts to replace the sequester.

NIH and CDC budgets would have been even lower but for the 2013 budget deal between Budget Committee Chairmen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), which restored some sequester cuts to the two agencies.

That deal expires at the end of the 2015 fiscal year next September, at which point lawmakers will again have to deal with the spending ceilings in the sequester.

Several Republicans are pushing to end what they refer to as Obama’s sequester.

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Army officer calls Syria pullback 'a stain on the American conscience' MORE (R-S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Remembering leaders who put country above party Graham-Trump rollercoaster hits dizzying speed MORE (R-Ariz.) want to get rid of not only sequester spending cuts to the Pentagon, but to the NIH and CDC.

“I want to sit down with Senator McCain, Jack Reed, Dianne Feinstein, a coalition of the willing, to replace these defense and non-defense cuts that are destroying our ability to protect our country, do something like Simpson-Bowles, where Republicans have to give on revenue, close some tax deductions in the tax code,” Graham said on CNN last week. Reed (R.I.) and Feinstein (Calif.) are two Democratic senators who could be key players in the debate.

Senior CDC and NIH officials in late September told lawmakers that budget cuts had “eroded” their ability to respond to Ebola.

Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said the agency hasn’t fully recovered from the sequestration cuts.

Experts who track public health spending say slashing the public health budget began long before the sequester, however.

“What we’ve seen over a longer period of time is significantly reduced funding for public health preparedness and response. That goes across administrations and crosses party lines,” said Richard Hamburg, deputy director at Trust for America’s Health.

“I think we have to blame ourselves. The problem is when you have more limited resources and you have competing priorities, you tend to fund what you perceive as a more immediate threat,” he said. “I think the important thing is not to play a blame game.”