President Barack Obama is preparing to ask Congress for additional funds to combat Ebola, a move that could shift some political pressure from the White House to lawmakers in the last two weeks before midterm elections.
While the move is unlikely to end criticism of Obama for a faltering response to the first U.S. cases, it could give him and his fellow Democrats a new talking point: that Republicans aren’t willing to pay to fight Ebola.
The forthcoming request is part of a 180-degree turn in the White House’s public posture on the deadly virus in response to criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. After weeks of playing down the threat, Obama tacked sharply in the opposite direction: He canceled two days of campaign events and capitulated to Republican demands that he name a ‘‘czar’’ to oversee the federal response. He gave the job to Ron Klain, a former White House aide.
Criticism of Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak escalated after a Liberian man visiting Dallas died and two nurses who treated him became the first people infected in the U.S. The disease, for which there is no cure or vaccine, has killed more than 4,500 people this year in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Dozens of lawmakers, including some of Obama’s fellow Democrats, have called on him to act more swiftly and boldly to prevent a broader outbreak. A White House request for supplemental funding would ask them to put money where their mouths are.
Two Democratic officials on Capitol Hill and one White House official said yesterday that the president will ask Congress to designate more money specifically to fight Ebola. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to detail private conversations about the spending request.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has that the president had “not made any decisions about whether additional resources are necessary.” His deputy, Eric Schultz, declined to comment yesterday but pointed to those remarks when asked about the size and scope of a spending package.
The White House official who confirmed the plan said it has yet to be determined whether funds would be sought on an “emergency” basis, meaning they would not count against the federal deficit, or carved out of a special war-funding account for Overseas Contingency Operations. In either case, the money would likely be rolled into legislation Congress is expected to take up after the elections to fund the federal government into next year.
A new funding request could also shift some focus away from congressional calls for a ban on travel to the U.S. from affected countries in West Africa. Obama has been reluctant to do that but left the door open earlier this week by saying he is not philosophically opposed to that idea.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who inquired about possible prohibitions on travel at the beginning of the month, said last week that Congress should come back into session to vote a ban into law if Obama won’t implement it himself.
“Ebola policy seems to be driven from the White House,” Cruz said in an interview with Bloomberg Politics. “It seems to be dictated by politics rather than a common-sense approach to protecting the American public.”