The Nation has run a post, “GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness,” which seeks to blame the opponents of the Stimulus Plan for lack of preparedness for the swine flu outbreak. The post, like most big lies, has a kernel of truth, but twists reality for political purposes. And like most big lies, it is being spread throughout the left-wing blogosphere like, well, a pandemic.
It is true that some $900 million in “pandemic preparedness” funds were stripped from the Stimulus Bill at the request of Republican Susan Collins. Those funds were stripped not because Collins opposed pandemic preparation, but because the funds were not allocated to any specific preparation and were not economic “stimulus” which was the supposed purpose of the bill. Collins never came out against funding pandemic preparation. As with many parts of the Stimulus Plan, Obama merely announced a goal, then threw money at it.
But the lie is that there is a lack of preparedness as a result. That is a concept which is disproven by the fact that the government infrastructure is in place to deal with a potential pandemic. I have not heard a single Obama administration official complain that the administration does not have the resources available. And throwing money at the problem back in February would not have implemented any changes by now.
More important, the government under George Bush spent billions of dollars preparing for a pandemic:
The federal government on Thursday awarded more than $1 billion to five drug manufacturers developing technology for speedier mass production of vaccines in the event of a pandemic.
The funding comes from the $3.8 billion that Congress approved last year in the name of pandemic preparedness. The federal government says its goal is to be able to distribute a vaccine to every American within six months of a pandemic. Currently, flu vaccines are produced in specialized chicken eggs, but that technique does not allow for speedy mass vaccinations.
The Bush administration also implemented planning, which now is being used to deal with the potential problem:
To safeguard Americans against a pandemic that scientists generally agree is inevitable, federal, state and local officials are developing extensive plans encompassing needs such as hospital and mortuary capacity and production of antiviral medication and vaccines. Local health departments have begun identifying locations such as school gyms and community centers that could accommodate temporary hospitals — space that might be needed for months.
This month, President Bush signed an executive order authorizing use of quarantines for avian flu cases.
This 2005 Congressional Budget Office study outlines the billions in funding sought by the Bush administration, and the seriousness with which the problem was treated (go to page 18 of the document for the budget details). The allocation of funding in the Stimulus Plan (which begins at page 144 of the original House bill) would have done nothing to move planning forward because lack of funding was not the issue. The problem was the difficulty of identifying the nature of the problem; indeed, almost all talk prior to a week ago was the threat of bird flu in Asia, not swine flu in Mexico.
A December 2006 Report, the National Strategy For Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan, summarizes the seriousness of the planning effort. A January 2009 Report updates the extensive efforts of the federal government to coordinate and implement planning with the States.
So it is not true that Susan Collins and Republicans either caused the nascent swine flu pandemic or a lack of preparedness. And it also is not true that the Obama administration’s funding request would have made any difference if approved. Once again, the truth is the first victim of politics.
UPDATE: The biggest problem facing the Obama administration appears to be of its own making, the failure to get appointees in place to deal with public health issues:
The Obama administration declared a “public health emergency” Sunday to confront the swine flu — but is heading into its first medical outbreak without a secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the department’s 19 key posts.
President Barack Obama has not yet chosen a surgeon general or the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His choice to run the Food and Drug Administration awaits confirmation.
I can’t wait to hear how they blame Bush for that one.
UPDATE No. 2: Michelle Malking reports: Schumer opposed flu pandemic funding in stimulus, too, you morons