It was inevitable that Republicans would be blamed for the spread of the Ebola virus, especially given that this is an election year. Fortunately, we did not have to wait very long for a series of stories pinning the infectious disease on the party of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and that sinister cabal from The Simpsons that meets in a mountaintop castle to oversee the development of their multinational evil plots.
In a speech last week, Hillary Clinton claimed that, since the Sequestration passed, that dastardly program that slashed budget increases for government programs down to the single digits, the CDC has been woefully underfunded, leaving Americans at the mercy of an even more inept government organization than ever before. And just last night, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins claimed, in an interview with Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, that a 2004 NIH budget slash cut the agencies work on an experimental Ebola vaccine, and thus the hope of millions, off at the knees.
“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,’” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”…
“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he said.
Of course, Collins noted later than an experimental vaccine might still be in trials at this point, even given two years lead time, and that an experimental vaccine is by no means a cure. But by the time the common sense rolled around in the interview, most Americans were comfortable in their belief that, had we only had one-party rule for most of the last decade, we have eradicated Ebola and every other infectious disease currently tormenting humanity, and we’d probably have Pumpkin Spice Lattes year round, too.
Unfortunately, what Clinton and Collins miss is that the CDC and the NIH have both been well-funded, they just haven’t seen Ebola as a top priority. The CDC, whose mission it is to protect Americans from the spread of infectious diseases, for example, has received nearly $3 billion from the Obamacare-created Prevention and Public Health Fund over the past five years. Of that $3 billion, the CDC used $180 million on epidemiology and laboratory capacity. They spent a whopping $517.3 million on “community transformation.”
The CDC’s website makes clear the objectives of community transformation grants. The program funds neighborhood interventions like “increasing access to healthy foods by supporting local farmers and developing neighborhood grocery stores,” or “promoting improvements in sidewalks and street lighting to make it safe and easy for people to walk and ride bikes.” Bike lanes and farmer’s markets may indeed help a community—but they would do little to combat dangerous diseases like Ebola, SARS or anthrax.
Now, that’s all nice, but it’s a bit difficult to ride a bike in a full HazMat suit, even if you have a designated bike lane.
The NIH is even better. Although Collins claims his budget was slashed, the NIH’s budget has actually grown, from around $18 billion in 2000 to around $30 billion in 2014. And while the budget hasn’t grown by leaps and bounds as it was before growth was curbed in 2004, it’s still grown almost every year until the middle of Barack Obama’s first term, in 2010. It seems, the only time the NIH’s year-over-year budget actually decreased was in the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term, when Democrats held both houses of Congress. But it’s not what the NIH has at it’s disposal to fight Ebola that’s the most interesting part. It’s what NIH does with it’s existing budget. After the Sam Stein article posted last night, one Twitter user dug through the NIH’s $30 billion budget to find “unnecessary” programs whose funding could be better repurposed. Among the top candidates:
If you add up only what Twitter found (although I’m claiming credit for the monkey poo story), that’s around $3.4 million that could have been put to better use, say, preparing Americans to survive the zombie apocalypse or, for that matter, researching and developing a vaccine to combat a serious infectious disease. And while $3.4 million in wasteful programming isn’t much, especially by government standards, it still shows that the real culprits in why we don’t have an Ebola vaccine are the NIH and the CDC, who just didn’t view Ebola as as big of a threat to Americans as over-massaged rabbits, poo-throwing zoo monkeys, main streets without bike lanes and methamphetamine addicts with working cellular phones. After all, neither did most Americans. Since the disease emerged in the 1970s, there have been less than 2,000 cases of Ebola worldwide.
Buuuut just remember, in an election year, it’s totally the Republicans.