Playing Politics With People's Lives
Well that sure was smart.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was apparently unwilling to be seen as endorsing such "funny" sounding priorities as flu "preparedness" in an economic recovery package. Perhaps in an attempt to prove her fiscal conservative bona fides, Collins repeatedly insisted that (Rep. David) Obey's pandemic preparedness funding did not belong in the bill:
COLLINS: There's funding to help improve our preparedness for a pandemic flu. There is funding to help improve cyber security. What does that have to do with an economic stimulus package? [CNN, 1/31/09]
COLLINS: I think everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu. But does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No. We should not. [MSNBC, 2/5/09]
After the funding was stripped, another moderate Republican attempting to appear tough on "unnecessary" spending in the recovery package, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), endorsed Collins' crusade against the pandemic preparedness funding on Fox News:
MS. KELLY: Okay. $780 million for pandemic flu preparedness, in or out?
SEN. SPECTER: Out. Very important projects, I took the lead along with Tom Harkin on some massive funding for pandemic flu, but it belongs in our regular appropriations bill.
The argument for putting flu preparedness in the stimulus was that an outbreak at a time of economic downturn would be devastating, not to mention the fact that anything that spends money to buy anything is stimulus, and the money is gone for state and local public health for flu pandemics:
Hamburg said there is no more pandemic preparedness money in the pipeline for state and local public health. "The $600 million that was made available in December 2005, in the fiscal year 2006 emergency supplemental bill, the last of those dollars went out the door this past August," he said.
In addition to the cutoff of pandemic flu funding, public health agencies have seen their "all hazards" preparedness funding drop about 25% since 2005, Hamburg said.
TFAH and its partners are advocating for another $350 million specifically for pandemic readiness and additional money for other public health emergencies, he said.
There is likely, especially now, to be additional funding in the FY2010 budget, and maybe even an emergency appropriation. But right now, we have no money in the pipeline for flu pandemics, DURING a possible flu pandemic (I don't want to get too hyperbolic, because the severity remains to be seen).
This outbreak is also occurring at a time when we have no Health and Human Services Secretary, thanks to:
The Service Employees International Union has launched an online petition criticizing Republicans for delaying the confirmation of a Health and Human Services secretary in the face of a swine flu outbreak.
The union accuses Senate Republicans of delaying the confirmation of nominee Kathleen Sebelius to “curry favor with extremist outside groups” and depriving the department of leadership as the nation confronts a potential flu pandemic.
“This is simply unacceptable,” the union says on its website. “This disease is spreading as we speak, but right now, a Bush-appointed accountant is running the department. We need an HHS secretary NOW. Sign the petition telling the Senate to vote immediately to confirm Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. If we don't act, the swine flu might just turn into another Hurricane Katrina.”
To Republicans, governance comes last. Winning a cable news debate comes first. The country suffers.
Sign the petition.