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Former Congressman Dr. Phil Gingrey provides public policy and government relations counsel to clients on a variety of issues. Here at Phil on the Hill, Phil draws upon his long career in public service to provide perspective and context on policy topics such as health care, the federal budget, annual appropriations, regulatory reform, and life sciences.

CDC Cuts and Biological Borders

Monday, June 12, 2017

President Trump’s first full budget proposal includes a measure that would reduce the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $1.2 billion.

That’s a 17 percent reduction, which would leave us with the lowest appropriation for the CDC in twenty years.

The administration’s rationale is straightforward. It seeks to add $54 billion to the Department of Defense, while also making steady reductions in the federal budget deficit. To achieve both, the president’s budget needs to give Congress the “pay-fors,” or offsets, to justify the expansion of the defense budget.

To a conservative like me, the Trump budget fulfills one of the primary purposes of the federal government set out in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which includes providing for a “common defense.”

As a former Member of Congress and physician, however, I have a somewhat broader perspective about what constitutes our common defense. I represented the 11th District of Georgia, giving me ample opportunities to visit the leading-edge laboratories of the CDC in Atlanta.

CDC exists for the same reason as the Pentagon. An arms race of sorts is underway between humans and opportunistic micro-organisms always evolving to defeat the defenses of our immune systems. In recent years, viruses such as Ebola, West Nile and Zika have tried to gain a foothold in the American bloodstream.

Fortunately, none of these diseases have become widespread, in part due to the leadership of the CDC. But the scientists of the CDC are not complacent. No researcher can forget “the Spanish flu,” a strain of influenza in the early 20th century that killed 675,000 Americans and almost instantly reduced our national life expectancy by 12 years.

And yet the president’s proposed budget would cut $82 million at the CDC center for vaccine-preventable and respiratory diseases such as influenza and measles. Don’t we have an obligation to protect our biological borders as a part of our common defense?

The Preamble to the Constitution also includes another purpose — to promote “the general welfare” of the American people. Here, too, the president’s proposed budget comes up short. It would cut $222 million dedicated to chronic disease programs that prevent diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and obesity. There is practically no family in America that is not touched in some way by these scourges of mankind.

Why, then, cut such programs that promote our general welfare?

Even from a green-eyeshade perspective, the proposed cuts to chronic disease prevention doesn’t make fiscal sense. As far as a public health budgets are concerned, a penny of prevention is surely worth a dollar of cure.

The Trump budget does propose to redirect some of the chronic disease prevention funds as block grants to states. But what guarantee do we have that states in deep deficit might not just use these funds for other purposes?

I am confident that when Congress scrutinizes the president’s budget, even the most conservative of my former colleagues will fully fund the CDC to fulfill our basic, Constitutional responsibility to protect our nation’s biological borders.