Monday, April 27, 2009

New Partisan Theatrics on the Left: GOP Supports the Flu

Ok. I'm back. I have been scarce recently, due to professional constraints. Now that I have returned, I have discovered a litany of blog posts which essentially say the same thing: The GOP voted against flu preparation funding in the stimulus. The news is spreading like a....virus...across the web (yeah, cheesy intentional pun).

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:

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.

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.

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.


Jason Papanikolas said...

Long time, no hear, Prof. Hutchinson! Glad to see that someone's busy in this economy!

I do so love it when two parties attack each other over meaningless drivel! It means that they're not screwing the rest of us over.

I'm curious after reading your "vent" there at the end: how did you feel about your party's actions in eliminating the D.C. school voucher initiative?

My take is that any action which can improve educational outcomes for low-income children (irregardless of race) should be warmly embraced by "progressives" who never fail to trot out the children for S-CHIP and the like. What bothered me the most about the Democrats actions is that there did not seem to be any evidence to indicate that the program hurt these children (or, to be honest, helped them). They simply didn't like it, so they cut it without a care!

Infidel753 said...

This is just typical of the big-government, nanny-state agenda of the Democrat party, wanting to interfere in the free market in flu infections with their government-funded vaccines based on Godless evolutionary "science". When are we going to hold people responsible for their own behavior? If people insist on breathing around others whom they barely know, and in public places, they need to accept the natural consequences instead of using artificial "protection", at taxpayer expense no less. Once the virus starts replicating, it's a life!

Anna Belle said...

Vent away. That's basically my frustration with the left for a long time now. So they're telling me they hold my values, but what are they actually doing about anything? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except hyperventilating about Obama's stance on pot. How very telling.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Jason. I had a few law review articles to complete -- which required a series of all-night and all-day writing sessions. I really was unable to blog during the madness.

As for the voucher plan, I was very upset by the decision. In fact, when the decision was first made, I tried to map out a constitutional violation, but decided it was too much of a stretch. The argument was something like this: The payment of tuition is a public benefit. Because the funds were for education, which is an important benefit and a "right" in every state, the students have a property interest in receiving the funds. If the government decides to withdraw funding, it needs to provide "due process' to the students first. Normally, this requires notice and an opporuntity to be heard.

The court precedent in the area I just discussed is very conservative, and it pretty much makes this a weak case. Politically -- I really hope they do something soon. It's a tragedy. I suppose none of the liberal legal operations in the city has sponsored a suit for political reasons.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anna Belle -- hi! And thanks!

I agree that the "change" generation has focused on some curious items as a sign of progress. This academic year, in response to all of the "change" rhetoric, I actually planned and taught (just finished) a new class called "Law and Social Change." On the last class, I had them read a series of speeches -- by Susan B. Anthony, Fredrick Douglass, Urvashi Vaid, and LBJ. These were "social movement" and "change" movements. Nothing compares today. Nothing.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Infidel - now that's a very realistic approach!

Decidere said...

Okay, certainly a billion dollars towards vaccines spent immediately would have done something for stimulating the economy, but no, not my cup of "which tea pots are more effective" tea.

But seeing the "liberals" and "pot" stuff come up in comments irks me - it was Obama's code to say "the dirty fucking hippies that elected me don't mean anything to me". Medical marijuana is not a silly issue, even if it sounds silly. And when he scoffs at that, he's also hinting he'll scoff at torture and other dirty fucking hippie issues. Serious people like Broder have decided what are the the policy positions we should hold, elections be damned.

And the GOP as the party of No is helping. Their major focus is showing they can force the Democrats to cave without 60 votes, doing their virtual filibustering, though that just got a bit harder, and will be harder still once Franken gets in. Perhaps then Congress can think up its own change agenda rather than waiting for Obama.

Decidere said...

And was it those liberals that were saying to eliminate $19.5 billion from education construction and $1 billion from Head Start programs? Seems it was those serious Blue Dogs and the we'll-compromise-as-long-as-it's-going-our-way Republicans who did their best to strip this out of the stimulus bill. Does it belong elsewhere? Perhaps, regular spending bills. But oops, Republicans and Blue Dogs will demand their 60 vote obeisance.

Is this type of money what we really need for education? Don't really know, I'm completely bored with the math-and-science pablum, as if inner city kids just need better reading and voila, an Einstein will be born. Daily Howler does a good job discussing education and the pathetic media treatment. Cool sounding programs are praised even if they show no results, steady hard work is laughed at. Yeah, I'd appreciate a more serious look at education, which may or may not be trying something different, it could just be trying to roll back some of the myths. How do you tell a kid that's already 3 years behind in reading to "just try harder or else" and expect that will have some effect?

The Republicans also voted against volcano monitoring, they were oh so serious. Eye on the ball, only stimulus items should make it in the bill, except for loads of tax cuts that won't come into effect near soon enough to stimulate. Picking apart earmarks of a few hundred million out of an $800 billion package, getting their faces on TV. Why do you give these people the benefit of the doubt? They're just trying to make Obama look bad, and it's not like I'm an Obama fan. When did they protest any of the excessive spending over the last 8 years? Suddenly they all think they're Paul Revere riding to save the country? I've spent most of my energy lately bitching about the way Detroit is being sidelined to wage war on the unions, our favorite whipping boys. I've been wondering what Obama would do if his grandma had been a line worker at a factory instead of a bank VP.
(Detroit posts over at )

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