Republicans Stripped Flu Funding from Stimulus Package


You can’t blame everything bad that happens on right-wing policymaking–but you can usually count on it to make a bad situation worse. Conservatives didn’t bring on the swine flu outbreak, any more than they caused Hurricane Katrina. But in both cases, they’ve made the federal government less equipped to respond to these disasters with possibly life-saving emergency services. 

As The Nation’s John Nichols reported this morning, earlier this year, House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey pushed hard for about $900 million in pandemic preparedness funding to be included in the economic stimulus legislation–but he “was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.” Nichols writes:

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.

Nichols documents how Collins and other Republicans actually singled out the pandemic prevention funds as a prime example of profligate Democratic spending, and of unrelated projects being tacked on to the stimulus bill. They used it to score political points. Collins’s vote was, of course, absolutely key to passage of the stimulus legislation in the Senate. So the only funding of this kind that that made it into the final conference version was $50 million for improving information systems at the Department of Health and Human Services. All support for frontline emergency services in the event of a pandemic was eliminated.

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  • James Ridgeway is a former senior correspondent at Mother Jones and a 2012 Soros Justice Media Fellow. For more of his stories, click here.