Democrats: “Republican cuts kill”
– New Web ad by the Agenda Project Action Fund
This ad is simply a more extreme version of a new Democratic talking point — that GOP budget cuts have harmed the nation’s ability to handle the Ebola outbreak. It mixes statistics — the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “cut” $585 million (the ad offers no date range) — with disturbing images of the outbreak and various Republican leaders saying variations of the word “cut.”
A slightly more nuanced version of this theme was launched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which in online advertising began to equate a congressional budget vote in 2011 with a vote for the House GOP budget in 2014 that supposedly protected special interests.
Democrats have had the upper hand for a long time when it comes to messaging, most of it twists the truth to the point where it is unrecognizable. Again, they are capturing the message: Cuts to the CDC are responsible for the Ebola crisis in the United States and Republicans want cuts. There is even a political commercial that says Republican cuts kill.
Documents show that it was the Obama White House that proposed cuts to the NIH’s budget from the previous year. President George W. Bush was responsible for significantly boosting NIH’s funding in the early years of his presidency.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Francis Collins, an Obama appointee, began the argument by blaming a “10-year slide in research support” for the lack of an effective Ebola vaccine. Democratic activist Paul Begala quickly tweeted: “Gee, thanks Republicans!”
But are there cuts and are they responsible for the crisis in which we find ourselves? How are the CDC and the NIH prioritizing their funds?
It is true that spending for the CDC has dipped ever so slightly since 2011, but the cuts followed years of massive increases. Overall, since 2000, CDC outlays have almost doubled, from $3.5 billion to $6.8 billion (in 2014 constant dollars). Moreover, in January, the Republican-controlled House actually passed legislation that increased CDC spending for 2014 by $567 million — $300 million more than was requested by President Obama.
It’s not that the CDC hasn’t had money, it’s that the money has been spent on things that have little or nothing to do with the agency’s mission of protecting Americans from health threats.
As the agency’s mission statement says in part, “Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.” Seems straightforward enough. There is, after all, a reason for the disease in the CDC’s name.
Yet, while the agency still might not have been prepared for an Ebola outbreak, President Obama did restart its push for gun control. Over the last decade, in fact, the CDC has spent much of its time — and money — studying seat-belt use, infant car seats, and obesity. These may or may not be worthy topics, but this focus makes it somewhat harder for Democrats to turn around and blame budget cutting for a lack of attention to the things that the CDC is actually supposed to do — like protect us from contagious diseases.
To understand just how misplaced the agency’s priorities have been, one need look no further than the CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was included in Obamacare. The fund has received some $3 billion over the past five years from a dedicated stream of mandatory funding, yet only a little more than 6 percent of that went toward epidemiology, lab capacity, or programs to fight infectious diseases. The rest has become a giant slush fund that has been used for everything from installing streetlights and improving sidewalks to promoting breastfeeding.
Republicans are also being blamed for the lack of an Ebola vaccine. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins claimed last week that we would have developed an Ebola vaccine by now if it weren’t for NIH budget cuts. Democrats quickly picked up on the claim, with Democratic strategist Paul Begala even managing to work George W. Bush and the Iraq War into a claim that years of NIH cuts are responsible for the lack of a vaccine.
Actually, minor year-to-year fluctuations aside, the NIH’s budget has increased from $29 billion in 2007 to $30 billion this year. Of course it is possible that more money might have resulted in a vaccine, though there is no guarantee that additional funding would have been dedicated to Ebola, since, prior to this outbreak, the disease ranked lower than many others in terms of public concern. Nor does money mean a cure. We still don’t have an AIDS vaccine despite billions in research dollars.
On the other hand, the NIH has managed to find $1.5 million to study why lesbians have a tendency to be overweight, while gay men do not. There was also nearly $1 million for a study on the sex life of fruit flies, which revealed the shocking news that male fruit flies are sexually attracted to younger female fruit flies. Then there was $688,000 spent to determine why people like Seinfeld reruns. It is even possible that the $355,000 spent on studies of how fast husbands and wives calm down after a fight might have been better used for that elusive Ebola vaccine.
But why prioritize when you can demand more money?