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GOP Budget Cuts Would Weaken American Defenses, Risk Thousands of Lives

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The budget approved by all but four House Republicans this spring would weaken America's defenses and risk thousands of lives.

Now that's not your typical progressive attack on the Republicans' budget priorities -- but it's entirely true.

I'm not arguing that the Republicans have proposed cutting the anti-missile "defense" program aimed at "rouge" missiles from Iran or North Korea that has cost almost $100 billion to date.

Nor am I suggesting that the GOP has opted to slash funding for the massive nuclear arsenal that is deployed to defend America against the Soviet Union -- which of course ceased to exist over two decades ago.

These massive programs defend America against foes that may -- or may not -- actually present a real threat. No, the Republicans chose instead to slash funding for a program to defend us against a clear and present danger -- an enemy that attacks our people and kills thousands every year.

The Republicans budget -- and its subsequent Appropriations Committee allocations -- would slash funding for our defense against the flu virus that attacks our country regularly and on the average kills 36,000 Americans.

That's right, GOP lawmakers have decided that we just can't afford to spend so much money on the National Institutes of Health. They believe that providing tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, providing tax subsidies to CEO's for their corporate jets, giving subsidies to the oil companies, and providing huge tax breaks to Wall Street speculators are more important than the fight against cancer, flu, or heart disease. In fact, they believe so much in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that they are willing to risk an economic meltdown to protect them. But they didn't bat an eye when it came to cutting money to defend America against threats that kill twelve times more each year than the September 11th attack.

Take the flu. Most years the U.S. is attacked by a flu virus. The problem is that the strains of flu virus vary. Currently that means that drug makers must wait to determine the exact strain before they can stockpile the vaccinations that are required to protect our population. Our failure to vaccinate our entire population -- and especially our at-risk population -- is the major reason why, on the average, 36,000 people die from the flu each flu season.

But right now the NIH is developing a universal flu vaccine that would immunize the population against all of the various flu strains -- and save tens of thousands of lives. The NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, says that the proposed budget cuts would set the universal flu vaccine project back for years.

Or take the impact of the GOP cuts on the war against cancer. Right now the NIH is funding research to develop techniques to decode specific cancers so they can be targeted by new drugs that seek out and destroy only cancer cells. Paul Ryan and the Republicans think we just can't afford to spend so much to stop cancer. Subsidies for corporate jets -- that's a different matter.

And the cuts at NIH are just one more example of upside-down GOP economic theory. Ignoring all empirical data, they contend that simply by cutting government spending and taxes for the wealthy they can spur economic growth. No matter that when Bush cut taxes on the wealthy to their lowest levels since before the Great Depression, the economy did not produce one additional private sector job for an entire decade.

The Republicans believe that investment by government -- by definition -- does not produce economic growth. Next time they ride to work on a street or subway, or pick their child up from a public school, or rely on inspections by the Food and Drug Administration when they buy a product -- they should close their eyes and pretend that government does not have a massive impact on all economic activity.

Or they should look at economic impact of the NIH. The NIH's project that mapped the human genome cost $3 billion and to date has produced over $700 billion of economic benefit. According to NIH Director Collins, since the NIH was founded, it is estimated to have generated $70 trillion of economic activity.

Take the example of monoclonal antibodies. This technology lies at the root of many of the most innovative therapies in modern medicine. The FDA has approved twenty monoclonal antibody therapies, and hundreds more in are clinical trials. In 2010, five out of the top twenty bestselling drugs were monoclonal therapies and generated annual revenues of $35 billion.

Antibodies allow the immune system to latch onto specific targets -- or invaders -- in the blood stream like bacteria and viruses that cause disease. Monoclonal antibodies are produced when an antibody-producing B-cell is fused with a cancer cell, creating an immortal line of cells that can produce a single form of very pure antibody.

The technique for developing monoclonal antibodies was developed by Drs. Georges Kohler and Cesar Milstein, using a mouse tumor line developed by NIH. They won the Nobel Prize for their work in 1984. Since that time the NIH has played an enormous role in converting this promising technique into life-saving therapies and diagnostic tools.

The recently approved breakthrough therapy for melanoma, Ipilimumab, is a monoclonal antibody.

A study authored by United for Medical Research concludes that in 2010, NIH investment led to the creation of 487,900 quality jobs, produced $68 billion in new economic activity across the country, and increased job growth by at least 10,000 in 16 states.

The bottom line is simple. The budget debate is not about "tightening our belts" because we're broke. It is about choices -- priorities.

America is not "broke." In the last ten years before the Great Recession, the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased at an average rate of 1.8% per year. That means that if the benefits of economic growth were equally spread throughout our society, everyone should have been almost 20% better off (with compounding) in 2008 than they were in 1998.

But average incomes didn't go up at all, because all of that growth went only to the top 2% of the population. The middle class may feel "broke," but America is not.

Yet the Republicans tell us that we have to stop investing in our future in order to continue to provide tax giveaways to that top two percent. The budget they passed would slash investment in medical research, education, health care and our infrastructure. Rather than investing in the future growth of the economy -- the future of our kids -- they say we have to allow the rich to "eat the seed corn" of our economy, and gorge themselves on $4,000 blouses, vacations in the south of France, multi-million dollar estates, exotic cars, and tax-subsidized rides in corporate jets.

They say that in order to protect the privileges of the wealthy, we need to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a program that would increase out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors by $6,000 per person each year.

Just last year, the average CEO salary went up 23% to over $10 million -- and corporate profits soared. The top-earning CEO, Viacom's CEO Philippe Dauman, made $84.5 million -- or $40,625 per hour. I guess the CEO class didn't get the memo about the need to "tighten our belts."

And now, in their ardor to defend the CEO class, the GOP is threatening to pull the plug on the economic grenade, let America default on its debts, and once again bring the economy down in a heap.

In the next eighteen months we have to fight like hell to limit the damage that is resulting from Republican control of the House of Representatives.

Next fall, once and for all, we must decisively end the reckless experiment in trickle down economics that caused the Great Recession. We must elect Democrats who are committed to investments in education, scientific research, public infrastructure and good jobs that are all necessary for long term, widely-shared economic growth.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist.He is a partner in Democracy Partners, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

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