Monday, April 27, 2009

GOP Saw Pandemic Flu Prep As "Wasteful Spending"

It almost feels like on every "do-gooder" issue, the Republican party falls woefully behind. Two months ago Bobby Jindal was ridiculed for mocking volcano monitoring, only to be further embarrassed when Mt. Redoubt in Alaska blew its top. While the lava and ash was thankfully going in the direction away from population centers, we knew that because there was money to fund programs that (gasp!) monitored the volcano.

Now the big panic in this country is all about the dreaded swine flu, infecting thousands in Mexico and somewhat sparsely (for now at least, hopefully) here in the U.S. and many other countries. Pandemic flu preparedness has been a concerning matter for health experts for many years, especially when the avian flu made news from East Asia a few years back. In this year's stimulus bill, Democratic Representative David Obey wanted to put in a measure for flu preparedness but guess who helped block that "wastefulness"?

From The Nation:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

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.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey's attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

And his partisan attacks on his efforts seem not just creepy, but dangerous.

Dangerous is the key word here. It is dangerous when partisan hacks like Rove can dictate to supposed "moderates" like Susan Collins that investing money in flu preparedness is something to attack Democrats on. If anything, there should have been more money in there for disease control and prevention, not less. In a country where tens of millions are uninsured and many more are under-insured, the potential for a pandemic is serious business. Yet the only thing Karl Rove and his disciples care about is scoring cheap political points and defending the tax breaks given to the rich.

That isn't only dangerous, it's psychotic.