When the Senate Appropriations Committee meets on Wednesday, November 12, the Obama administration will mount a full-court press to foist its whopping $6.2 billion “emergency” Ebolacare spending plan on taxpayers. That’s $6.2 billion with a “b” — six times what the U.N. said it needs to end the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The White House is labeling it “emergency” funding.
Not so fast. Read the fine print. Most of the money will be going to Africa, but not just to treat Ebola patients or for Ebola research. It’s a typical Obama administration spread-the-wealth scheme kicked up a notch to redistribute American resources to poor countries.
On August 28, the World Health Organization presented a plan to stop Ebola with a $1 billion price tag. The Obama proposal costs more because it would pay for a permanent health care infrastructure in African countries: constructing hospitals and laboratories and training health care workers and public health officials. That’s a massive transfer of wealth — literally twice the GDP of Liberia.
It is also a radical shift in foreign aid priorities that demands scrutiny. The proposed amount — $6.2 billion — is twice what we give Israel.
Speaking of priorities, Ebolacare would cost more than what the U.S. spends on all cancer research, even though cancer kills 360,000 Americans a year. Ebolacare would also cost six times what the president allocated to fight superbugs like staph and c-diff that rage through hospitals in the U.S., killing 23,000 patients a year.
How about the mysterious spread of enterovirus D68 to 29 states, where it has killed 11 people, mostly children, and paralyzed another 70? Where’s the program to investigate that?
Helping Ebola victims is the right thing to do, but $6.2 billion is a wacky number. Obama wants to spend as much on Ebola as on HIV, even though HIV currently kills more than 1.5 million people a year in poor countries — 300 times the Ebola toll.
Labeling the request an “emergency” weasels around Congress’ rule that any spending additions have to be offset elsewhere in the federal budget. Taxpayers get clobbered.
They also have every reason to worry their money will disappear down the rabbit hole of corruption. Liberian officials say that tens of millions of dollars and supplies of medical equipment and food donated by relief organizations routinely go missing. Liberian officials also say they often have to buy protective medical gear on the black market at inflated prices after it’s been stolen.
Don’t expect to hear these concerns at Wednesday’s hearing. So far, 55 interest groups representing hospitals, EMS responders and local public health officials have submitted testimony asking for a piece of the pie. And no wonder. The Obama administration has told state and local governments and health facilities to prepare for Ebola. Hospitals such as SUNY Upstate at Syracuse University in New York are spending roughly $500,000 each getting ready for Ebola: purchasing personal protective suits at $2,000 a piece, refitting laboratories, training their staff and conducting Ebola drills. Across the nation, hundreds of hospitals are incurring these costs and wondering where they are going to get the money.
They shouldn’t count on much. New York State, where 10 hospitals are undertaking expensive preparations, has already been told that it will get less than $15 million. Only a tiny, though unspecified, portion of the $6.2 billion would be spent here in the U.S.
That will suit Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. On November 3, she blasted capitalist countries for ignoring Ebola for four decades, saying appeals for help had “fallen on deaf ears” because “Ebola has historically been confined to poor African countries.” She adamantly opposes curbs on travel that would keep Ebola inside Africa.
Intentionally or not, Chan seems to revel in the worldwide alarm over the virus because it is a catalyst for shifting resources to Africa. Now, she said, Ebola is “out there with consequences that all the world can see, every day, on primetime TV news.” Obama’s gargantuan proposal is everything Chan wants and more. But Congress should take a hard look at it, rather than rubberstamping something just because Obama calls it an “emergency.”
Betsy McCaughey Ph.D. is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.