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“The Right’s Scary Ebola Lesson”: How Anti-Government Mania Is Harming America

If not for serial budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health, we would probably have an Ebola vaccine and we would certainly have better treatment, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins tells the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein. This comes on the heels of reporting that the Centers for Disease Control’s prevention budget has been cut by half since 2006, and new revelations about how botched protocols at the Dallas hospital that turned away Thomas Eric Duncan and then failed to treat him effectively also led to the infection of one of Duncan’s caregivers.

Yet most of the media coverage of the politics of Ebola to date has centered on whether President Obama has adequately and/or honestly dealt with the disease. “I remain concerned that we don’t see sufficient seriousness on the part of the federal government about protecting the American public,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters. Cruz is probably the wrong guy to talk about seriousness: his government shutdown forced the NIH to delay clinical trials and made the CDC cut back on disease outbreak detection programs this time last year.

I find myself wondering: When, if ever, will the political debate over Ebola center on the way the right-wing libertarian approach to government has made us less safe?

My fans at Newsbusters and other right-wing sites were outraged last week when I raised questions about whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry shared some responsibility for the nation’s Ebola crisis with President Obama, since the outbreak occurred in his state on his watch. Now that a second person has been infected there, I think the question is even more relevant.

The GOP approach to public health was crystallized at the 2012 debate where Rep. Ron Paul – another Texas politician — said it wasn’t the government’s responsibility to take care of a hypothetical young man who showed up in the emergency room very sick after he decided not to buy insurance. “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul said, deriding “this whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody …”

“Are you saying that society should just let him die?” moderator Wolf Blitzer asked. And the crowd roared “Yeah!” (For his part Paul answered no, but said hospitals should treat such cases as charity and not be compelled to do so.) Lest you think either Paul or that Florida audience represented a minority sentiment in the GOP, recall that none of his rivals, not even Mitt Romneycare, challenged Paul’s approach at the debate.

But now we know what happens when hospitals fail to adequately care for uninsured people who turn up in the ER: They can die, which is awful, but they may also spread disease and death to many other people. It’s pragmatism, not socialism, that commits governments to a public health agenda.

That agenda, however, has been disowned by the modern GOP. Sarah Kliff got lots of attention for her Vox piece starkly depicting how the Centers for Disease Control’s prevention budget has been cut by more than half since 2006. The chart she used actually came from a piece in Scientific American last week, which I hadn’t seen before. It’s must-reading: it dispassionately explained the way we’ve underfunded and degraded our public health infrastructure. And again, it made me think about the Republican policies that have hampered our ability to fight this crisis.

Isn’t there a fair way to say that cutting 45,700 public health workers at the state and local level, largely under GOP governors, was irresponsible? As was slashing the CDC’s prevention budget by half since 2006, or cutting the Affordable Care Act’s prevention budget by a billion? Sen. John McCain wants an “Ebola czar,” but the Senate is blocking confirmation of the Surgeon General. Isn’t it fair to ask whether the constant denigration of government, and the resulting defunding, now makes it harder to handle what everyone agrees are core government functions?

It seems relevant to me that Texas is 33rd in public health funding. It’s clear now that not just the hospital but state and local authorities responded inadequately to Duncan’s illness. His family and friends were quarantined, but left to fend for themselves; county public health officials didn’t even provide clean bedding. “The individuals, it’s up to them … to care for the household,” Erikka Neroes of Dallas County health and human services told the Guardian a week after Duncan had been admitted to the hospital. “Dallas County has not been involved in a disinfection process.”

When the disinfection process began, belatedly, there’s evidence that was botched as well. The Guardian found a team of contractors with no protective clothing simply power-washing the front porch, for instance, when it should have been scrubbed with bleach. A baby stroller sat nearby.

As the great science writer David Dobbs concluded last week: “So the richest country on earth has no team to contain the first appearance of one of the most deadly viruses we’ve ever known.”

I’ve found myself wondering if Ebola is unquestionably a plus for Republicans three weeks before the midterm, as everyone (including me) has assumed. Certainly Republicans think it is; that’s why vulnerable Senate candidates, from Thom Tillis in North Carolina to Scott Brown in New Hampshire, are fear-mongering about it.

But if Democrats are the party of government, and thus seen as culpable by voters when government does wrong, aren’t government-hating, budget-slashing Republicans politically vulnerable when we need government to do something right, and the cuts they’ve pushed have compromised its ability to do so?  Or does IOKIYAR mean the media just shrugs when the GOP fear-mongers, but would punish any Democrat respond in kind?

Blogger Kevin Drum likes to complain about a Democratic “Hack Gap” – the fact that liberal pundits are too willing to criticize Democratic leaders, while GOP pundits more often line up behind theirs. I don’t agree with Drum – in the end, Chris Matthews and I didn’t cost the president his re-election in 2012 – but it’s an interesting debate. Personally I think Democrats have a “Brilliant and Ruthless Campaign Operative Gap,” when it comes to shamelessly exploiting the other side’s political weakness.

The GOP’s anti-government crusade has hampered our ability to face the Ebola challenge. In an election year, there’s nothing wrong with Democrats saying that clearly. Campaigns should be cutting ads right now spotlighting the way Republican budget cuts have devastated the public health infrastructure we need to fight diseases like Ebola. Here’s one such ad from the Agenda Project.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, October 13, 2014

October 14, 2014 Posted by | Anti-Government, Ebola, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Replace The Sequester, Not Sebelius”: While She Tries To Fix A Broken Website, Congress Allows Rest Of Government To Crash

An embarrassing mistake, which should be considered a scandal, has caused the Internal Revenue Service to perform far fewer tax reviews and cut back its fraud investigations, costing the Treasury billions of dollars. Have there been any angry House hearings? No.

That same mistake has forced the National Institutes of Health to cut more than 700 advanced research grants, delaying the progress of vaccines and experimental treatments. No hearings.

And it has cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but there is no sign that Republicans want to investigate what went wrong.

That’s because the mistake is called the sequester, and Republicans know what went wrong: they caused it by threatening default in 2011 and then refusing any budget agreement that included new taxes the next year. They’d much rather investigate a serious bumble by the Obama administration in rolling out the health-care website — which will eventually be fixed — than examine the effects of their own actions.

The paradox of Republican complaints about the website’s failings has been widely noted: They are pretending to care about the technical problems of a law they want abolished. But in fact the hypocrisy goes much deeper than that. In virtually every department of government, the right wing has used the sequester to encourage government to stumble, creating backups and denials of service that will be far more damaging than the ones going on at The sequester, which has been the Tea Party wing’s sole legislative victory, is evidence that its members want government to do less with less, and that they aren’t interested in having it work efficiently in delivering services to the public.

Any lawmaker who came to Washington to improve government, rather than shrink it, would do everything possible to reverse the sequester, as Democrats will try to do in a budget conference beginning this week. (They will be joined in that effort by a few Republicans who want only to turn back the cuts to the Defense Department.) But most Republicans, ranging from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the furthest extreme in the House, have said they have no intention of letting the budget caps expire, and certainly aren’t interested in replacing them with higher revenue.

The only thing they have clamored to replace is Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary. While she tries to fix a broken website, Congress is allowing the rest of government to slowly crash.

By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, October 28, 2013

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congressional Political Dysfunction”: Alzheimer Research Cuts Show Folly Of Sequestration

Many Republicans, and Democrats, never thought the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration would take effect. After all, they might produce dangerous, if unintended, consequences such as potentially bankrupting the U.S. health-care system, along with millions of families.

Typical Washington hyperbole, right? It actually is happening under sequestration, which kicked in three months ago, a product of America’s political dysfunction.

Because the cuts only affect the margins of a wide array of defense and domestic discretionary programs, there mostly hasn’t been an immediate pinch; the public backlash has been minimal. The long-term consequences, in more than a few cases, are ominous.

There’s no better case study than Alzheimer’s disease. With the sequestration-enforced cuts at the National Institutes of Health, research to find a cure or better treatment is slowing.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Five million Americans are afflicted with the disease. It costs about $200 billion a year, creating a severe strain for public health care and many families. Then there’s the emotional toll: The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that caregivers had an additional $9 billion of health-care costs last year.

“As the population lives longer, Alzheimer’s is the defining disease of this generation,” says Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who’s trying to fight the sequestration restraints and sharply increase spending for research.

The latest annual report on health statistics from the Centers for Disease Control underscores her point. There’s been a lot of progress, in large part because of earlier NIH efforts: The number of deaths from strokes and heart disease is down more than 30 percent over the past decade, and cancer deaths have declined almost 15 percent. The reverse has occurred with Alzheimer’s. Over a decade, deaths have risen sharply, up 38 percent for males and 41 percent for women.

It’s expected to get worse. A report this spring by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. estimates that by 2040, the number of Americans afflicted will have doubled, as will the costs. Other experts say that as grave as those projections are, they may be underestimated. The Alzheimer’s Association says that under current trends the cost will exceed $1 trillion annually by 2050. That either would bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid or force huge tax increases.

Much critical health research in the U.S. generally emanates from the NIH, which has compiled a record of success with many diseases that has been the envy of the world.

The NIH’s funding is cut by 5 percent, or $1.55 billion this year, across the board. That means 700 fewer research grants are approved and 750 fewer patients will be admitted to its clinical center. The longer the automatic cuts go on, the worse it will get; medical breakthroughs rarely are instantaneous. They take years and build on previous studies and experiments.

Alzheimer’s research, pre-sequestration, was slated for a healthy increase this year. By moving a few discretionary funds, the NIH has avoided cutbacks.

Still, the funding falls dramatically short of the promise.

“In recent years, there have been some extraordinary advances, from genetics to molecular biology, that have given us insights into Alzheimer’s that we didn’t have before,” says Richard Hodes, a physician who heads the NIH’s National Institute on Aging.

About five in six grant applications currently aren’t funded. Hodes says money for some of those grants and increasing some of the clinical trials, also being cut by sequestration, would capitalize on these advances.

Senator Collins says that aside from the human dimension, this is a simple cost/benefit analysis.

“We spend only $500 million annually on Alzheimer’s research and it costs Medicare and Medicaid $142 billion,” she says. “It’s going to bankrupt our health-care system and we’re spending only a pittance on prevention.”

She wants to double the Alzheimer’s research budget immediately and then double it again — to $2 billion annually — within five years. For most federal programs, huge increases in spending would cause reckless waste and inefficiency. NIH is an exception. Fifteen years ago, its budget doubled in five years and the results were better than ever.

For NIH, there are other critical advances — in areas such as Parkinson’s or diabetes and some forms of cancer — that are slowed by the budget cuts. And the mindless sequestration, which doesn’t touch entitlement spending or the tax benefits enjoyed by the wealthy, forces reductions in programs such as Head Start for low-income kids, the nutritional program for women, infants and children, or the meals-on-wheels initiatives for lower-income senior citizens.

Congress did act once to reverse the damage wrought by sequestration: It undid some cuts affecting aviation.

There was an emergency; members couldn’t be inconvenienced by flight delays or cancellations when getting back to their districts. They don’t seem as motivated to help prevent or slow the spread of a wrenching affliction that costs a fortune.


By: Albert R. Hunt, The National Memo, June 10, 2013

June 14, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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