Both sides of aisle agree on need for $6B for Ebola
WASHINGTON — America might be Ebola-free — at least for now — but the deadly virus was at the top of the agenda Wednesday for the lame-duck Congress.
In a hearing before a Senate panel responsible for doling out federal funds, lawmakers quizzed senior administration officials about how they planned to use more than $6 billion in emergency funding requested by President Obama to contain Ebola at home and abroad.
The session on Wednesday was noticeably less confrontational than past hearings that examined the government’s response to Ebola. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seemed open to reaching rare accord on the need for the money, even if they quibbled over the details about how it should be spent.
Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said emergency Ebola funding should not be a partisan issue.
“Ebola, in my mind, meets the criteria for emergency spending: It is sudden, urgent, unforeseen and temporary,” Mikulski said.
She noted that Congress in the past provided $6.4 billion in emergency funds to fight the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and $6.1 billion in response to the avian flu outbreak in 2005, under President George W. Bush.
“We worked on a bipartisan basis to do this,” she said. “I would hope that we would follow the models that worked in the past.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., who is vice chairman of the committee, said the large size of the funding request deserves scrutiny from Congress. He said it wasn’t clear the president had a feasible plan for how to use the money effectively.
“From the beginning of this outbreak, the administration has appeared to be preparing for only the best-case scenario,” Shelby said. “Competent crisis planning, however, must include contingencies for the worst-case scenario as well.”
That’s why travel and visa restrictions shouldn’t be ruled out, he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and other administration officials who testified were eager to prove they had learned from initial missteps in their response to the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
Of the nine Ebola patients treated so far in America, Duncan was the only one to die. Eight have recovered, including two nurses who became infected while treating Duncan.