WASHINGTON -- Just two weeks before the midterm elections, there are no signs of a de-escalation in the ongoing political tangle over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its emergence in the United States.
On Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a statement attacking Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) for supporting budget cuts to federal agencies that are at the forefront of the Ebola response.
“At a time when our nation is focused on detecting, isolating, and treating, Ebola patients in the United States, Coloradans deserve to know about Congressman Cory Gardner’s inexcusable record that would have harmed our response to Ebola,” said DSCC Communications Director Justin Barasky of Gardner, who is running in a close race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
“The Ebola virus cases in the United States and in Western Africa are a terrible tragedy and a reminder of just how critical it is to invest and fund the agencies that respond to public health crises like Ebola," Barasky's statement continued. "Congressman Cory Gardner has proven for years that protecting tax breaks for millionaires is a higher priority than ensuring we have the resources to respond to Ebola.”
The DSCC has, until now, been quiet on the matter of Republicans' support for budget cuts that have impacted Ebola preparedness. However, the committee's attack echoes earlier attempts by other Democratic groups to direct some of the public’s fear over the Ebola outbreak toward the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and an outside group called the Agenda Project have both gone after Republican candidates for supporting bills and budgets that would slash funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
The complication with this line of attack is that Democrats aren’t entirely innocent when it comes to funding. President Barack Obama has also introduced budgets that call for a reduction in funding for the CDC. In addition, he, along with a large majority of congressional Democrats, signed off on sequestration, which facilitated major reductions of domestic discretionary spending and dramatically hindered the NIH.
The DSCC’s attack on Gardner notably avoids any mention of sequestration, and instead highlights two of Gardner's votes. The first is a January 2014 omnibus spending bill that passed the House of Representatives, but which Gardner voted against. That bill included $1.3 billion for the CDC’s Center for Public Health Preparedness – a $91 million increase from its previous funding level. The second vote is a February 2011 continuing resolution that cut the CDC’s budget by $755 million. Gardner supported the resolution, which passed the House largely along party lines.
The DSCC also makes note of Gardner’s support for Republican Study Committee budgets. The RSC, which is composed of some of the House’s most ardent conservatives, has proposed slashing domestic spending across the board, including more than a billion dollars from the CDC.
The issue of funding for the CDC has already appeared in the Colorado Senate race, though not at the DSCC’s prompting. In a recent debate, Udall attacked Gardner for supporting budget cuts. Gardner responded by accusing the NIH and CDC of spending money on wasteful projects rather than disease preparedness.
The Republican Senate candidate has also been critical of the administration’s handling of the emergence of Ebola on American soil (there have been two infections to date). Gardner has called for a travel ban from the affected West African countries -- a position that Udall has moved closer to adopting in recent days.
Alex Siciliano, a spokesman for the Gardner campaign, said Monday: "Instead of working towards solutions to destroy this deadly virus, it's clear that Democrats would rather score political points and scare Coloradans. Look no further than the fact that Senator Udall himself has voted to cut the CDC to the tune of $300 million."
"As the Huffington Post reported just yesterday, a top official at the NIH agreed that reductions in government spending are not to blame for the government's mishandled response to Ebola," Siciliano added.
A spokesman for the DSCC told The Huffington Post that the committee will be making similar charges against other Republican candidates in the days ahead.
This story has been updated to include a comment from the Gardner campaign.