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Republicans, Democrats Trade Punches Over CDC, NIH Ebola Funding

Scalise says Democrats are politicizing Ebola.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House majority whip lashed out at Democrats Thursday for trying to blame Republicans for sanctioning cuts to medical research that might have helped curb the spread of Ebola in the United States.  

"It's a ludicrous attack," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., told a small group of reporters following an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the Obama administration's handling of the Ebola crisis.  

"You had a hearing today with a number of officials ... and not one person asked for an additional dime of money," Scalise went on. "[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas] Frieden himself has actually made public comments that he has the resources they need." Earlier this week, Democrats on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee reiterated their request for Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., to call a hearing on what new money the CDC and National Institutes of Health might need to confront the matter at hand.  

Their letter emphasized that such hearings, even during the recess, were appropriate given the subcommittee's jurisdiction, and that the funding for combatting Ebola contained in the current continuing resolution might need to be re-upped when the stopgap spending bill expires on Dec. 11.  

But Democrats couldn't resist throwing salt in the wound: They reminded Republicans that the GOP left town for the 7-week recess, "the earliest we have recessed in over 50 years," and detailed the scope of CDC and NIH spending cuts under the GOP majority.  

On Thursday afternoon, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined in.  

“As Francis Collins, head of the NIH, said last week: ‘NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001,”' Pelosi said in a statement. "If we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready."  

The Democrats' line of attack hasn't gotten much traction in the press. On Wednesday, the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" blog, under the headline "The absurd claim that only Republicans are to blame for cuts to Ebola research ," gave four "Pinocchios" to the talking point.  

Back on Capitol Hill, Scalise said that while constituents in his district and other districts across the country are concerned about the Ebola virus continuing to spread, "this is not a political issue."  

He cautioned against Democratic campaign ads that might try and make it political ahead of the midterm elections. In late August, before Ebola had reached U.S. soil, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas ran a spot against his challenger, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, hammering him for his vote against a 2013 pandemic protection reauthorization.  

"Tom Cotton voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola," the ad's narrator intoned. "Anyone trying to politicize this ought to be ashamed of themselves," Scalise said. "And if they're running ads trying to say something contrary to what even officials in the Obama administration have said now, they ought to back away from it quickly and apologize for it."  

But Scalise wasn't shy himself in politicizing the issue, insofar as he could take a jab at Obama.  

"Let's see if the president is willing to work with us to do one now," Scalise said on whether Congress should take a vote on a travel ban to contain the virus. "He loves to brag about how he can do things with a pen and a phone. ... He can approve the travel ban. Today. And we've called on him to do that."  

 Correction 8:32 p.m. An earlier version of this post misstated when Scalise made his comments about the president.  

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