The political blame game over the deadly Ebola virus is in full swing just weeks before the November elections – with each side ignoring the facts.
Several Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, contend that President Barack Obama has been too slow or hasn’t done enough in response to the outbreak. Some Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, want to restrict air travel from West Africa, the outbreak’s epicenter, or bolster the U.S. borders.
Democrats are pointing fingers, too, blaming congressional Republican budget-cutting zeal for crippling the response of federal health institutions to the crisis. On Monday, a liberal group and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee linked Republican fiscal policies to the Ebola outbreak.
The Agenda Project Fund unveiled a one-minute ad titled “Republican Cuts Kill,” which mixes images of body bags and workers in hazmat suits with shots of prominent Republicans such as Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and others repeatedly saying “cut.”
The group plans to air the ad in states such as Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina with close Senate races.
The DCCC launched a paid online web ad Monday stating that Republicans voted to cut the Centers for Disease Control’s “budget to fight Ebola,” referring to a 2011 budgetary vote, while protecting “tax breaks for special interests.”
“Few issues better illustrate House Republicans’ out-of-whack priorities than their determination to protect special interest tax breaks, even when they come at the expense of our ability to fight the spread of diseases like Ebola,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the DCCC’s chairman.
Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said it’s Democrats who’ve dropped the ball on Ebola.
“It’s funny that the Democrats are quick to point fingers when it’s been this administration pushing the CDC to spend time and resources on bike lanes and farmer’s markets instead of prioritizing national security and the health of Americans,” she said.
Some budget analysts believe both parties share blame when it comes to cuts to the CDC. The CDC’s discretionary budget shrunk to about $5.9 billion in 2014 from about $6.5 billion in 2010.
Since 2001, there’s been a 42 percent cut to federal funds from the CDC to support state and local preparedness programs, according to a 2013 study by the Trust for America’s Health on protecting Americans from infectious diseases.
Like many federal agencies and programs, sequestration took a chunk out of the CDC’s budget. The mandatory budget cuts agreed to by Congress and the White House in 2011 ripped $285 million from the CDC’s budget in fiscal 2013. The cut included $195 million from the CDC’s Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Program, which tries to prevent deaths from infectious diseases.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, called attempts to link budget cuts directly to the Ebola virus “ridiculous.”
“It’s such a stretch and it hits me as unethical,” Sabato said. “The Ebola virus wasn’t even an issue at the time (of the cuts). It’s scare-mongering, it’s the panic of the moment.”
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, said that years of cutting or stagnant budget growth has “slowed down” researchers from discovering vaccines for infectious diseases such as Ebola.
“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he told the Huffington Post.
Stan Collender, a veteran Washington budget analyst, said the Ebola outbreak is giving lawmakers in both parties a painful lesson that “budget cuts have consequences.”
“Do Republicans deserve all the blame for the cuts? No. But I’d give them 90 percent,” said Collender. “Some of the automatic cuts like sequestration have the fingerprints of both parties.”
Laurie Garrett, a global health analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations, said both parties are doing the public a disservice by playing politics with Ebola.
“I don’t think this should be a political issue,” said Garrett, author of “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.” “I don’t think anything good comes from putting Ebola into partisan camps.”