CDC, NIH win big in healthcare spending bill

CDC, NIH win big in healthcare spending bill
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House Republicans on Tuesday rolled out a budget proposal for the Obama administration's health department that falls $4 billion short of its request.

But GOP lawmakers are offering a funding boost in two key areas — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) — in the wake of last fall’s Ebola crisis.

Both agencies became flashpoints during Congress's Ebola battle last year, when both parties tried to point fingers at what prompted the disease to spread to the U.S. for the first time.

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“It showed us how important it is, how rapidly things can change,” Rep. Tom Cole, who oversees the Appropriations health subcommittee, said Tuesday of the short-lived Ebola threat.

“[Those agencies] need to be as robustly funded in terms of what they think is necessary as you’d fund the American military,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

Funding at the NIH, which has been a bipartisan priority despite the added complication of budget caps, would grow by $1.1 billion under the bill. That’s $100 million above Obama’s request.

The CDC’s funding would increase by $140 million, equal to Obama’s request.

Republicans from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have called for more funding for the agencies in recent months — a rare area where conservatives are willing to spend more on health programs.

At the peak of the Ebola political crisis last October, Democrats tried to blame the GOP-backed sequester, which introduced automatic spending cuts to both the CDC and the NIH.

Republicans fought back that it was the White House that first introduced the idea of the sequester, which enforced mandatory spending cuts across the government.

Funding for the CDC, in particular, became a political football as the disease spread to two nurses in Dallas, fueling widespread panic. Only two people became infected with the disease while on U.S. soil, compared to 26,000 who contracted it in West Africa. Ten people have been treated in the U.S.

Still, the funding bill for HHS is many steps away from becoming law, if it does at all.

“It’s certainly a conservative bill, and we’ll be hearing plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth over some of that, but overall, there are some legitimate functions of government in my view, and certainly CDC and NIH fit that category,” Cole said.

“We know there’s going to be areas of disagreement,” he added.