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Senator: Obama's $1B Ebola Spending Crafted 'Behind Closed Doors' to Bypass Congress

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | October 8, 2014 | 5:20 PM EDT

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), blasted Pres. Obama today, charging that Obama has crafted a $1 billion Ebola spending plan “behind closed doors” and without letting Congress see it.

Vitter’s letter calls on the Committee's Leadership, as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee, to join him in demanding the Obama Administration provide all relevant information to Congress regarding its plan to attack the threat of an Ebola epidemic. Vitter is concerned the Administration is asking for more money to send to Africa without offering a clear plan or strategy to protect Americans from the deadly virus.

"I have serious concerns with the President’s current proposal, and fear it does little from keeping the deadly virus out of America," Vitter wrote. "We need a heck of a lot more information before they come to Congress pleading for more money. Especially since the government is not enforcing federal immigration law to bar the entry of a foreign national on specific health-related grounds. Instead the President is requesting $1 billion for a plan that has not been presented to members of Congress.”

“This drastic increase to more than $1 billion and the previous nearly $300 million already provided warrants full Congressional consideration, not simply a closed door briefing to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees staff. Members of Congress continue to have specific questions related to the manner in which this $1 billion dollars will be used, and those should be addressed directly by the appropriate official.

“I have serious issues with the President’s current proposal that appears to be an effort to bypass appropriate Congressional consideration.”

Vitter says there are enough funds to continue anti-Ebola efforts until Congress has a chance to look at the president’s billion-dollar plan:

”I believe the funds already provided for ongoing operations can cover operations until November 13, 2014 when Congress comes back into session. However, if funds have already been exhausted by ongoing operations, I respectfully ask that no more than the necessary interim funds be reprogrammed until members are able to receive the necessary briefing.

“An authorization of $1 billion dollars should not be done behind closed doors or without full briefings being made available to members.”

A copy of Vitter's letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) as well as Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is below:

October 8, 2014

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members,

The President has announced that the United States has initiated a government-wide response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to address ongoing public health event that has claimed 3,500 lives. I strongly support addressing this crisis with the full force of the government to help bring the epidemic under control. However, I ask you to oppose fully allowing the additional $1 billion in reprogramming requests until previously requested additional information is available for members of Congress to be fully briefed.

The United States has committed more than $263 million to date, including $88 million included as part of the $1 trillion government-funding bill (P.L. 113-164) passed in September, to help assist in efforts as necessary. I recognize that we need to act quickly to avoid a potential global health security crisis.

Regretfully, the government is not exercising its ongoing powers of implementing its authority under federal immigration law to bar the entry of a foreign national on specific health-related grounds. The President and the government agencies possess vast authorities that could help safeguard American citizens and our homeland at our border and entry points. For example Airlines flying to the U.S. are permitted under Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations to refuse transportation to passengers with infectious diseases who have been determined to pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain a public health “Do Not Board” (DNB) list, which contains the names of people who are likely to be contagious with a communicable disease, may not adhere to public health recommendations, and are likely to board an aircraft.

I believe there is sufficient evidence that passengers coming from these countries would qualify as a direct threat given their potential for carrying the disease. Instead of using powers given to him, the President is requesting $1 billion for a plan that has not been presented to members of Congress, focuses on Africa, and largely ignores our own borders.

Nevertheless, this drastic increase to more than $1 billion and the previous nearly $300 million already provided warrants full Congressional consideration, not simply a closed door briefing to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees staff. Members of Congress continue to have specific questions related to the manner in which this $1 billion dollars will be used, and those should be addressed directly by the appropriate official.

I have serious issues with the President’s current proposal that appears to be an effort to bypass appropriate Congressional consideration. As you know, the Administration recently submitted two reprogramming requests for Ebola efforts. That funding would total an excess of $1 billion from four agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority; the Department of Defense Overseas Humanitarian Defense and Civic Aid; the Agency for International Development; and the Department of State, and is proposed both from both existing Overseas Contingency Operation funds and supplemental funds to combat the epidemic, with future funding needs still to be determined. While the committees partially granted the initial request with $50 million, pending questions about the coordination and consistency among those agencies to release the entire request, I strongly believe understanding the objectives and being informed of how the funds will be used is essential for members of Congress.


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