The figures on coronavirus grow more and more frightening with each passing day: as of early Thursday morning, March 19, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was reporting that the worldwide death toll from the global pandemic had reached 9311 (with almost 3000 in Italy and more than 800 in Spain). But those figures could grow much worse in the weeks ahead; many health experts fear that the death count in the U.S. could soar — and one of the Republicans who is being scrutinized for her voting record on pandemic preparedness is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins, often described as a "moderate," is not a far-right wingnut; the Maine senator leans conservative but isn't an extremist like Rep. Devin Nunes of California or Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. And in late 2017, Collins was among the few Senate Republicans who voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. But the Daily Beast's Eleanor Clift, in a March 19 op-ed, notes that Collins opposed "funding for pandemic flu preparations" as part of an "economic stimulus plan" in 2009.
2009, of course, was President Barack Obama's first year in office after defeating Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, in 2008's presidential election — and Obama inherited the economic tornado now known as the Great Recession. It was in February that Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Collins voted for. But Collins, Swift explains, "lobbied hard to kill" funding for pandemic preparation and wanted it removed from the bill. She got her way.
"As one of only three Senate Republicans supporting the package," Swift recalls, "(Collins) had a lot of leverage with an administration desperate to show bipartisan support in a global economic crisis."
In April 2009, Swift points out, Democratic Rep. David Obey (who chaired the House Appropriations Committee back then) was critical of Collins for having opposed pandemics preparation funding. Obey was well aware of the threat that H1N1 posed at the time and feared that something worse would come along.
"Whether or not this influenza strain turns out to have pandemic potential, sooner or later some strain will," Obey warned in April 2009. "We are not prepared today. Let's hope we don't need to."
Obey knew what he was talking about: 13 years later, the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus is turning out to be the deadliest pandemic since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 (which killed millions of people). COVID-19 is hardly the "hoax" that President Donald Trump and his sycophants at Fox News spent weeks claiming that it was: it's the worst global health crisis in more than 100 years.
Politico's Michael Grunwald, on March 12, went to Twitter and looked back on his own reporting on Collins' record on pandemics preparedness. Grunwald tweeted, "I had forgotten my own reporting that @SenatorCollins stripped $870M for pandemic preparations out of the 2009 stimulus."
On March 13, Betsy Sweet — one of the Maine Democrats competing for a chance to run against Collins in 2020's general election — tweeted, "In 2009, @SenatorCollins didn't think it was a good idea to invest in pandemic flu preparedness, saying it was not good for the economy. Now, #Covid19 could throw us into another recession. We deserve better from our leaders."
Sweet isn't the only Maine Democrat who is hoping to run against Collins: Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is considered the frontrunner in Maine's Democratic senatorial primary of 2020. And one of Gideon's supporters, Armand Domalewski, tweeted on March 13, "Fun fact: in 2009, Senator Susan Collins singlehandedly wiped out almost a billion dollars of CDC funding for pandemic response from the stimulus bill."
Dan Aibel of the anti-Collins blog Collins Watch asserted, "Collins didn't just 'say' the funding should be removed from the stimulus; she made removal of pandemic flu preparedness funding A CONDITION OF HER VOTE. And was quite open about it. This was widely reported at the time."