On February 5, Karl Rove took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue against President Obama’s Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act because, in his view, the spending was not targeted to create or preserve jobs. In particular, Rove complained about the fact that the bill included “$900 million for pandemic flu preparations.” He contended that such spending was unnecessary because the health care sector “added jobs last year.”
Rep. David Obey (D-WI) included the pandemic preparation funding in the package because he believed “that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse.” But Rove was not concerned with the actual substance of the funding.
Rather, as Paul Krugman explained at the time, in attempting to oppose and discredit the economic recovery package, conservatives in the media and Republicans in congress aligned themselves around a strategy that amounted to “snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny.” Unfortunately, this “snickering” at funding priorities had very real impacts.
Indeed, like Rove, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was apparently unwilling to be seen as endorsing such “funny” sounding priorities as flu “preparedness” in an economic recovery package. Perhaps in an attempt to prove her fiscal conservative bona fides, Collins repeatedly insisted that Obey’s pandemic preparedness funding did not belong in the bill:
COLLINS: There’s funding to help improve our preparedness for a pandemic flu. There is funding to help improve cyber security. What does that have to do with an economic stimulus package? [CNN, 1/31/09]
COLLINS: I think everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu. But does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No. We should not. [MSNBC, 2/5/09]
After the funding was stripped, another moderate Republican attempting to appear tough on “unnecessary” spending in the recovery package, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), endorsed Collins’ crusade against the pandemic preparedness funding on Fox News:
MS. KELLY: Okay. $780 million for pandemic flu preparedness, in or out?
SEN. SPECTER: Out. Very important projects, I took the lead along with Tom Harkin on some massive funding for pandemic flu, but it belongs in our regular appropriations bill.
Now, in light of the current outbreak of swine flu, their attempts to placate the conservative wing of their party by standing up against extremely important funding priorities looks extremely shortsighted. Ironically, those ultra conservatives in office who led the fight against the stimulus, like Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), are seeking government assistance in addressing the swine flu outbreak.