WASHINGTON -- Recent attacks by a Democratic outside group blame congressional Republicans for exacerbating the Ebola epidemic by continuously seeking to cut funds for government health agencies.
But the charge leaves out a critical point. President Barack Obama hasn't been consistent on funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the dominant U.S. public health agency combating the outbreak. In some years, he's been a budgetary champion for the CDC. In other years, he's bowed to austerity.
During Obama's first three years in the White House, the CDC's total funding increased from $6.64 billion to $7.16 billion, according to figures provided by the administration. Those funding levels were all higher than what was in place at the end of the Bush years.
After the GOP took control of the House in 2011, the administration protected CDC funding by relying on new funding streams from the Affordable Care Act. But the CDC's total budget fell by $430 million in fiscal year 2013, and the president can't blame Republicans for the drop. The president's funding requests for the CDC dropped too.
In FY 2010, the budget authority requested by the president for the CDC was $6.38 billion, according to administration figures. That number went up to $6.68 billion in FY 2011. It then decreased sharply to $5.89 billion in FY 2012 (Page 85). The cuts were softened by the fact that the CDC received money from additional funding streams. In that fiscal year, additional funding streams actually resulted in a higher overall account for the CDC than the prior year. (Hence, how it ended up with $7.16 billion.)
But these non-traditional funding sources couldn't reverse the general movement to austerity the following year. The president's budget authority that year was $5.06 billion (Page 113). The funding for the CDC that year ended up at $6.73 billion after the other accounts were taken into effect.
An administration official acknowledged to The Huffington Post that “sequestration and tight budget caps have had an impact on a range of critical health care programs." But the official said the totality of the funding -- as opposed to just the budget requests for the CDC -- underscored that even "within a constrained environment, the Administration has prioritized CDC funding over the years with significant increases for control of infectious diseases." The official noted that other sources, such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund, helped keep funding levels stable even during the most austere times.
Still, the fact that the president went along with those austere times complicates the attacks that Democrats are making against Republicans today. A new ad by the group Agenda Project Action Fund all but accused the GOP of letting people die by draining funds from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. Certainly, it's fair to say that Republicans were more interested than Democrats in cutting the budgets of those agencies during the past few years. But the president's budget requests didn't provide the sternest of pushbacks, and indeed explicitly posed significant cuts at times.
The White House has recently moved away from austerity. The president's recent budget includes a slight increase in both CDC and NIH funding -- though well short of what Democrats and medical research advocates say is necessary. According to administration figures, Obama requested $5.47 billion for the CDC for FY 2015, which is a $180 million increase from FY 2014.
Budget figures are often in dispute. And so, other media outlets that have looked at the president's requests have put forward different statistics. Separate documents put together by the CDC do provide slightly different numbers, but they tell the same general story:
- In FY 2010, the budget request for CDC funding was $6.31 billion.
- In FY 2011, it was $6.26 billion. That year the Prevention and Public Health Fund helped soften the blow by adding $610 million.
- In FY 2012, the budget request was $5.81 billion while the Prevention and Public Health Fund helped soften the blow by adding $752 million.
- In FY 2013, the budget request was $4.99 billion, while the Prevention and Public Health Fund helped soften the blow by adding $903 million.
- In FY 2014, the budget request was $5.22 billion, while the Prevention and Public Health Fund helped soften the blow by adding $755 million.
- In FY 2015, the budget request is $5.39 billion, while the Prevention and Public Health Fund is expected to add an additional $809 million.