Monday, April 27, 2009

Funds to help prepare for a pandemic were cut out as 'pork,' putting us all at more risk

Hat tip to Althouse:

John Nichols of The Nation calls them like he sees them. And he right on target today.

GOP know-nothings fought pandemic preparedness

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse -- with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans -- led by Maine Senator Susan Collins -- aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey's attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

And his partisan attacks on his efforts seem not just creepy, but dangerous.

Nichols then goes on to point out how Karl Rove pointed to pandemic preparedness funds in the stimulus package as an example of unnecessary pork.

Further on,

Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill No, we should not."

Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate's version of the stimulus measure.

The Republicans essentially succeeded. The Senate version of the stimulus plan included no money whatsoever for pandemic preparedness. In the conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate plans, Obey and his allies succeeded in securing $50 million for improving information systems at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But state and local governments, and the emergency services that would necessarily be on the frontlines in any effort to contain a pandemic, got nothing.

I hope to God that this does not turn into a pandemic, but if it does and if state and local governments don't have the resources available to fight it, then remember the funding for that was in the original stimulus package. It was forcibly taken out of there by Republicans as a condition to pass any package at all.

1 comment:

sandyh said...

To be fair to Senator Collins, let's make plain that she was not against the appropriation but only that it was included in the stimulus bill. (Jidal on the other hand ridiculed the need for developing volcano warning equipment.)

However, it always seems that the conseravatives are putting off doing things that come back to hurt this country. They have procrastinated long enough with allowing the super rich from paying for the privilege of living and operating within our society.

It cost money to run any operation. A country of over 300 million people must be funded.