The federal government has been closed for two days and the political dialogue has disintegrated into name calling and heated rhetoric, with Republicans holding press conferences announcing their intentions to fund the World War II memorial and claiming that President Obama’s refusal to accept the GOP’s position is opening the door to a terrorist attack.
On Wednesday, the debate reached new a new low, as conservatives seized on comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to argue that he does not care about children with cancer.
Republicans have offered legislation to fund the Veterans Affairs Department, the city of D.C., national parks and museums, and the National Institutes of Health while the full federal government remains shutdown. During a press conference, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Reid, “if you can help one child who has cancer why wouldn’t you do it?” Reid responded by arguing that lawmakers shouldn’t “pick and choose” which parts of the government to fund and urged House Republicans to allow a vote on a “clean” 6-week continuing resolution:
CNN’s DANA BASH: But if you can help one child who has cancer why wouldn’t you do it?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Why put one against the other?
REID: Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own. This is — to have someone of your intelligence to suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible and reckless.
Reid’s comments, which were apparently made in reply to Schumer’s remarks, were immediately picked up by the Drudge Report and tweeted out by Republican House members:
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 2, 2013
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) October 2, 2013
— John Fleming (@RepFleming) October 2, 2013
Reid has long supported funding for health research and has worked to “replace the $1.7 billion in cuts facing the National Institutes of Health.” The Nevada senator met with the Senate Appropriations Committee this summer to “figure out a way to get something through the Senate that increases NIH funding” and has “gone to the floor of the Senate to warn that forcing the NIH to award 700 fewer competitive grants will have generational consequences, setting back research on gene sequencing, brain treatments and anti-viral therapies,” the Huffington Post reported in June.
Ironically, the very same lawmakers who are using Reid’s comments to pressure Democrats to fund the government in a piecemeal fashion have also voted for budgets that would undercut funding for health care research and cheered the consequences of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.