Is the GOP to blame for swine flu?

Republicans opposed money in the stimulus for preparation for this kind of emergency, and one senator ensured its removal.

Published April 27, 2009 6:15PM (EDT)

Any time there's a lot of attention given to something like swine flu, you can expect it to become a political issue, and quickly. This is no exception, as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is taking a lot of heat from the left for having successfully fought to remove several hundred million dollars for preparations for pandemic flu from the stimulus. So is Karl Rove, who, in one of his columns for the Wall Street Journal, listed that funding as an example of what he thought were the problems with the bill.

I've written previously about the various stimulus funding for disease prevention and other health-related programs that was opposed by the GOP for one reason or another. As I said back then, I think that money was -- despite what critics said -- stimulative, and should have remained in the bill: Not only would jobs have been created as programs were created or expanded, but many of them would have led to future savings. And I do think this is a good time to remind voters why this kind of spending is something worth supporting.

But I also think there's a limit to how far this issue should be pushed for partisan gain. First of all, it's undoubtedly true that the funding in the stimulus would have come far too late to have done anything for this particular outbreak. Second, Collins doesn't oppose this kind of funding generally -- she just believed it shouldn't go in the stimulus. You can disagree with that (and, as I said, I do), but it's not like she wants the federal government to go without the resources needed to fight against pandemics. Third, when he was in office, former President Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion in funding for just this sort of thing. And finally, as conservative blogger Michelle Malkin observes -- in a post otherwise notable for her usual polite, reasoned and fair way of debating -- the problem of dismissing the idea of stimulus funding for pandemic prevention isn't limited to the GOP. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had previously included it in a list of what he called "porky things."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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