The CDC Should Stick to What It Knows

Posted: Oct 16, 2014 12:01 AM

There are two certainties in life. The first is death. The second is the certainty that at the slightest hint of national distress the Democrats will blame it on mean-spirited Republican budget cuts.

In a speech last week former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speculated that the infamous budget sequester increased the difficulty of dealing with Ebola. The Director of the National Institutes of Health suggested that had it not been for dramatic cuts a vaccine could already be available.

Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a recent Congressional hearing that spending cuts have "eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats."

The Chairman of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, Steve Israel (D-NY), said, “Few issues better illustrate House Republicans’ out-of-whack priorities than their determination to protect special interest tax breaks, even when they come at the expense of our ability to fight the spread of diseases like Ebola,”

The Agenda Project stepped right up and produced a television ad blaming Republican “cuts, cuts, cuts” for the spread of the disease. The Agenda Project comes by its pedigree for elevating the public discussion quite naturally. In 2012 they produced the ad that showed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushing a Medicare recipient off a cliff and another ad mocking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The federal government funds most research in basic science and has, since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995, dramatically increased the funding.

The National Science Foundation provides about 24 percent of the funding for basic science. They receive over 40,000 requests for funding each year and award grants to about one-fourth of them. Over the last few decades 212 people funded by the NSF have been awarded Nobel Prizes.

The budget of the NSF for the year prior to the Republican’s winning the majority was about $3.2 billion. For the current fiscal year they received about $7 billion.

The NIH budget has done even better. The budget for FY 1995 was $11.341 billion. By 2003 their budget more than doubled. It increased in every year before peaking at $30.803 B in 2012.

The NIH budget was reduced in 2013 as a result of the budget sequester that was proposed by the White House and approved by a Republican led House and a Democrat led Senate.

One of the questions raised about the rapid escalation of funds for the agency is whether the increased funding can be put to productive use.

Writing in The Scientist, Frederick Sachs noted that doubling the budget of the NIH between 1999 and 2003 did not increase the numbers of scientific publications any more than in other nations that did not experience the increased funding. In other words a dramatic increase in inputs did not have a concomitant increase in outputs.

Funding grants reimburse for salaries, labs, facilities and all direct costs of the research. On top of the amount of the grant the institution bills the government for indirect costs such as maintenance and operations that cannot be directly apportioned to that project. Indirect costs average an additional 55 percent of the grant.

Stanford University came under fire in 1991 for billing the taxpayers for an additional 78 percent for indirect costs. Included in that amount were daily fresh cut flowers, cedar lining for the president’s home closets and a refurbishment for the University’s yacht. Over the 80’s they overbilled the taxpayers by $200 million.

And then there are the huge benefits a free nation derives from the basic scientific research these taxpayer dollars fund. What might befall our nation without a $325,000 NIH grant informing us that wives were happier when they learned to “calm down faster” during arguments with their husbands? That key piece of information failed to impress my wife. Perhaps it will be more helpful to yours.

We also learn from a $940,000 scientific grant that adult male fruit flies are more attracted to younger, prettier female fruit flies, This settles a rift that has been simmering in the fruit fly community for years. It is as yet unclear how it will impact your neighborhood.

However, the rage of the day is that Republican cuts to the Centers for Disease Control inhibits its ability to deal adequately with the Ebola outbreak.

The CDC budget in 1995 was $2.223 billion. The increase was steady through 2012 when it reached $10.806 billion. The sequester reduced it slightly in 2013 and the president’s proposal for the 2014 fiscal year was for an additional cut of $270 million. Fortunately for the CDC the Congress provided nearly a billion dollars above the president’s request.

The CDC has an unequalled expertise in infectious diseases. At times, though, they have wandered off that path.

They have been instructed by politicians to study gun violence for years. Democrats are currently proposing $60 million for another such study.

They have also confused their knowledge of infectious diseases with an understanding of how to transform our communities. Their web site celebrates programs encouraging us to eat more locally grown food as well as constructing sidewalks, bike trails and community lighting.

The CDC is a world-class intellectual community in the study of infectious diseases. Whining about budgets and being politically correct does not become them. They should stick to what they know best.