Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

There Is a Special Place in Hell

Just an observation about the Zika virus and the history of the HIV epidemic.

The Reagan administration bears tremendous moral guilt for its failure to respond adequately to the AIDS crisis.  (I use that term because in the early years, HIV had not been identified.  In fact, even "AIDS" is a bit of an anachronism—for a while there was no single name for the disease.)  Officials would come to Reagan asking for money for research, prevention, and treatment, and the administration's answer was, "We're not going to increase your budget, or even reverse the budget cuts we've forced through.  But gee, if the disease is such a big deal, you should cut your other programs to find money to fight it.  The blame is really on you if you if you fail to find the money somewhere in your budget."

The reason this was such an abdication of responsibility is that existing programs (A) probably make a lot of sense on their own terms, since they've gone through rigorous budgeting processes, (B) probably have incurred a lot of fixed costs that will be lost if the projects aren't carried through to completion, (C) probably have induced reliance, by which I mean people have made decisions and allocated resources on the assumption that the budgeted money will be spent as intended, and (D) have constituencies that will resist any effort to reallocate the money.  In other words, when the Reagan administration denied any increase in funding for AIDS work, it was a foregone conclusion that the funding would be grossly inadequate.  Telling the bureaucrats they should reallocate money from other projects was a disgusting attempt to pass the blame.

Now as we face the Zika virus, the roles are somewhat reversed.  The Obama administration is asking for $1.9 billion in funding, and the Senate has voted to provide $1.1 billion.  What has the House done?

House Republicans put forward legislation that would require the Obama administration to reallocate $622 million from existing health programs to fight the mosquito-borne disease, which causes severe birth defects. 
In announcing their proposal, House Republicans said in a statement that they were supporting “critical activities that must begin immediately, such as vaccine development and mosquito control.”
Now in fairness, Zika is not as destructive as HIV, and I think it's legitimate to debate how much should be spent.  (Personally I think the $1.9 billion request is reasonable, but it's not as though I'm some kind of expert.)  But it's telling that the Republicans are resorting to the Reagan administration's AIDS playbook when so much is at stake.  Very few things would make me happier than seeing Nancy Pelosi back in the Speaker's office.


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