Ebola is the most recent “crisis” (footnote: “crisis” is a loose term given Ebola’s relative lack of impact on the health of individual Americans) is highlighting a severe abdication of duty. Rather than produce a solution to the “crisis,” both parties appear content to campaign on the issue. Republicans’ talking points mirror those that arose during the immigration debate: solving the problem relies on preventing people in the affected regions from getting access to the US. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to introduce a bill that will suspend issuing travel visas to those traveling from affected areas. The Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans wrote a letter urging President Obama to ban travel visas through executive action. Rep. Pete Session (R-TX), Chair of the House Rules Committee (the one committee responsible for bringing bills to a vote on the floor), has recommended the same. These calls for executive action come on the heels of a House authorized lawsuit against the President for taking executive action.
Democrats have geared up their appropriators and staff to push for additional funding that may or may not be necessary to stem a currently non-existent Ebola outbreak in the U.S. Democrats are arguing that drastic budget cuts have reduced agencies’ ability to deal with the problem, despite $88 million in supplemental funding passed in the September continuing resolution and $750 million in reprogrammed money to mobilize over 3,000 troops to Ebola stricken regions. Democratic senate candidates, in turn, have attempted to paint their opponents as budget extremists failing to provide government with the means necessary to combat the Ebola crisis.
The broader point is there is a lot of talk and little real action. This Congress in particular has been all too happy to cry wolf while passing responsibility to an executive branch that is overburdened, underfunded, and often legally incapable of doing what it requests.
The only real certainty in this story is that absolutely nothing will be done before the midterm election. And, in all likelihood very little will be done after the election outside of some hearings and possibly a small funding package. Of course, all of that is contingent on Ebola remaining in the news cycle after the election. If the child migrant crisis is any precursory indication, that is far from a guarantee.
The last time Congress seriously debated NIH and CDC funding (i.e. not as part of a giant omnibus package or CR) was 2006. Ebola is a serious issue and should be treated that way. However, a long history of failed process combined with a historically unproductive legislative branch is likely to deter legislative action when it’s needed.