Day: October 16, 2014

We can’t survive on budget cuts, as Ebola is making clear

 

I have written repeatedly about the political shortsightedness involved in making budget cuts to public schools with the resulting loss of teachers’ jobs, larger class sizes and other negative impacts on children’s educations and the state’s future. Now, we have an even more dramatic example of the folly of building political careers on the flimsy foundation of budget-cutting. It is called Ebola.

The deadly disease’s recent arrival in the U.S. already has come perilously close to invading several Texas public schools. And, it is spreading fear and unease in a lot of other places, mainly because health care providers, although dedicated and selfless, have not been nearly as prepared for the disease as officialdom would like to be able to say they are.

Ebola has been ravaging three West African countries, including Liberia, for months, and this outbreak wasn’t the first on that continent. Since airliners are constantly crossing the Atlantic (in both directions), you would think that the folks in charge of safeguarding public health in the United States would have figured out long ago that, sooner or later, someone infected with Ebola would get on an airplane in western Africa and fly to an American city, any American city with an airport. Why were we so unprepared?

Actually, in government laboratories, at least, health officials and scientists have been working for years to try to get ahead of Ebola. Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, told the Huffington Post that NIH has been trying to develop an Ebola vaccine since 2001, but research has been slowed by – guess what? — federal budget cuts.

“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,” Collins said.

The lack of sufficient funding obviously has hurt scientists’ efforts to develop a vaccine or cure for the disease. According to the Huffington Post article, the National Institutes of Health budget has remained flat for the past decade, losing 23 percent of its purchasing power after adjusting for inflation. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness budget has been cut deeply since 2006.

In Texas, the problem is worsened by the fact that millions of people are without health insurance – we continue to lead the country in that callous distinction – and may not be able to afford an Ebola vaccine even if one were developed. And, don’t forget, the powers that be in Austin have shut the door on billions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds that could ease that problem.

Budget-cutting is a popular mantra that has helped countless demagogues get elected to office and guide public policy, but ideological mantras are no way to govern, as the mounting Ebola problem is making painfully obvious.

One of those budget-cutting demagogues, Sen. Ted Cruz, who precipitated a federal government shutdown last year, now wants to impose a ban on travelers from West African countries. What we really need is a ban on electing more Ted Cruzes.