John Nichols, a writer with The Nation, started the flurry of posts this morning (I believe) with this zinger: GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness. Nicols describes a process where silly Republicans voted to water down the amount of money devoted to pandemic preparation in the stimulus package:
Of course, even Nicols acknowledges that no flu pandemic exists. But he does not acknowledge that the stimulus package was an extra stream of money separate from the normal operating budget of the federal government and the normal allocation of money for general spending projects, including public health initiatives.
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.
Nicols does not present any evidence whatsoever to demonstrate that the normal budget failed to devote sufficient funds to the agencies responsible for addressing public health concerns. Nicols also fails to demonstrate why, if necessary, Congress cannot simply allocate funds now as part of an emergency spending plan. Instead, he whips out his partisan club and starts pounding. He does not even state whether the pandemic funds that actually made it into the package are being used to combat the swine flu.
My Take: I agree with critics who argued that including pandemic preparation funds in the stimulus package did not promote the policy behind the plan -- stimulating the economy. Public health is a general policy issue; it is not properly addressed in legislation combatting a financial crisis. Furthermore, opposition to including the the funds in the stimulus package does not mean that any particular member of Congress opposed investing in pandemic preparation as a general policy matter. Accordingly, my fellow liberals are just pumping out hot air on this one.
Apparently, the mercurial stock market has responded negatively to the flu, a fact that Nicols believes proves the link between the flu and the stimulus. But this argument is not persuasive. The stock market reacts and overreacts all the time. Extreme daily movement in the market usually has nothing to do with sound economic analysis. Instead, it results from public panic, which Nicols's analysis invites.
Finally, while Nicols blames the GOP for opposing the inclusion of pandemic preparation in the stimulus package, he fails to acknowledge that Democrats voted for them as well. The stimulus package would have passed without the votes of the 3 purple Republicans. If the Democrats believed that including the full amount requested by Obey was so compelling, they would not have supported the Republican cuts. On this point, one blogger says that Senate Democrat Charles Schumer also blasted the notion of including pandemic spending in the stimulus package.
My Very Cynical and "Bitter" Outtake: I wonder how the kids in racially segregated urban poverty schools are doing today. While liberals are blabbing incessantly about this silly matter, they should have been analyzing pressing social issues related to poverty and unequal opportunity. Decaying public schools pose a bigger threat to the economy and to public health than GOP opposition to specific items in the stimulus package. Liberals pretend that they are a "progressive" antidote to the GOP, but from here, it looks like many of them do not care about progressive issues at all. So long as they can beat up Republicans, they are happy. But that does not put food on people's tables, right? Yes -- I am venting.
Related article: Dems Put Swine Flu to Good Use.