Trump budget chief holds firm on CDC cuts amid virus outbreak

Russ Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday doubled down on proposed cuts to health services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Vought came under intense questioning from Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dems press Trump consumer safety nominee on chemical issues | Lawmakers weigh how to help struggling energy industry | 180 Democrats ask House leadership for clean energy assistance 180 Democrats ask House leadership for clean energy assistance Republican Jim Bognet to challenge Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright MORE (D-Pa.) at a hearing about President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE’s 2021 budget request. It proposed cutting Health and Human Services funding by $9.5 billion, including a 15 percent cut of $1.2 billion to the CDC and a $35 million decrease to the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund's annual contribution.

“The question I have is, are we prepared to fight pandemics if we cut from programs that are specifically designed to prepare for them, including the coronavirus?” Cartwright asked.

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Vought responded by saying Trump signed into law the $8.3 billion emergency supplemental package Congress approved last week.

That funding, a significant increase over the $2.5 billion emergency request the White House sent over, would be spread out over several years. The funding in question at the hearing was for next year's spending. Cartwright pressed Vought as to whether he would amend the request.

“The question is today, as we sit here and we know about coronavirus and the impact it’s taking on the people of the world and the economies of the world and the stock market and everything, as you sit here today, are you ready to take that back?” he pressed.

Vought confirmed that the administration was sticking to its request.

“If you’re asking if I’m sending up a budget amendment, no, I’m not sending up a budget amendment,” he said.

An OMB spokesman said that the CDC cuts in the budget request did not affect infectious disease, and said Trump's request included a total of $4.3 billion in funds for Infectious Diseases and Preparedness, in funds that deal with the flu, opioids, and global health security. 

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“The $4.3 billion funds all of the CDC programs that focus on infectious disease and emergency preparedness activities," they said.

"This figure reflects that the Administration is prioritizing funding for infectious disease and emergency preparedness efforts at CDC, compared to non-infectious activities, like studying the health and safety risks of infrequent bathroom breaks for taxi drivers," they added.

Congress is already looking into a broader fiscal response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has led to significant stock market correction and threatened economic growth.

Trump will discuss possible economic options to stem the impact of the virus outbreak with Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. on March 11.