News Releases

Murray: “ very concerned…that a focus on fiscal austerity and the return of sequestration will continue to weaken our ability to respond to needs like this” 

NIH Official to Murray: “I have to tell you honestly it’s been a significant impact on us” 

Murray praises Washington state organizations for contributing to global Ebola response 

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) attended a full joint committee hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, to discuss the resources being allocated to confront the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Murray discussed the harmful effects of sequestration on scientific and medical research with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Beth P. Bell of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Robin Robinson, Deputy Assistant Security for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, and expressed concern that fiscal austerity and sequestration have weakened the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to the Ebola outbreak.

Murray also applauded Washington state-based organizations focused on global health, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Foundation, for their support in responding to the Ebola outbreak, and asked witnesses to comment on the resources currently available to control the outbreak and the need for further support going forward.  

Murray also had the opportunity to hear from aid workers about their experiences in West Africa helping to fight the disease, including Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantley.

Excerpts from the hearing:

I’m proud to represent a state that is producing truly incredible research in the biomedical field, including several ongoing studies and efforts aimed at curing Ebola… So we’re doing a lot out there, but the reality is we all have to do more, and one of the many reasons why I fought to roll back sequestration in the Bipartisan Budget Act was to provide certainty for organizations like the NIH and the CDC, which have had to deal with as we all know some steep and harmful budget cuts,” said Senator Murray.

I have to tell you honestly it’s been a significant impact on us as you well know and I know you’ve been fighting for us for quite a long period of time…[Sequestration] has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats. And in my institute particularly, that’s responsible for responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging,” said Dr. Fauci.

See below for a full transcript of Senator Murray’s questions and witnesses’ responses:

MURRAY: I’m proud to represent a state that is producing truly incredible research in the biomedical field, including several ongoing studies and efforts aimed at curing Ebola like World Vision, which is supporting the Ministries of Health; the Geneva Foundation, which is working on a treatment drug; Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, which is looking into culturally appropriate ways to prevent further transmissions; and the University of Washington’s Katze lab, which is researching a vaccine or drug development, to name a few.

So we’re doing a lot out there, but the reality is we all have to do more, and one of the many reasons why I fought to roll back sequestration in the Bipartisan Budget Act was to provide certainty for organizations like the NIH and the CDC, which have had to deal with as we all know some steep and harmful budget cuts. 

I believe it’s critical that we continue to focus on rolling back this trend of disinvestment in research and development, so we can ensure our country continues to produce the kind of life-saving, world-changing research we know we are capable of. But I am very concerned , I just need to say this, that a focus on fiscal austerity and the return of sequestration will continue to weaken our ability to respond to needs like this.

Dr. Fauci, while you’re here, I wanted to ask you, can you talk a little bit about how the lack of budget certainty through sequestration, and the budget fights of the last two years have impacted the U.S.’s to respond to the Ebola situation?

DR. FAUCI:  Thank you for the question, Senator Murray. I have to tell you honestly it’s been a significant impact on us as you well know and I know you’ve been fighting for us for quite a long period of time. Our budget has been flat since the end of the doubling in 2003 with the 2-plus percent inflationary index, that over a ten year period we’ve lost about 22 percent in our purchasing power. That was the left hook, the right cross was the sequestration that came in and pulled out a significant amount of money, $1.5 billion, of which we got reconstituted not all of it.

And we try to preserve the fundamental basic research of the investigators, the bright ideas that people have.  And if you want to preserve that, the money that you have for initiatives such as the development of vaccines, and the development of drugs, suffers because it’s a balance, there’s programmatic initiatives and there’s investigative awards and when you shrink the budget or don’t give even an inflationary increase all of that starts to whittle away and you get even secondary effects like disincentives of getting bright people involved from your state or any state who feel that there’s a disincentive to get involved.

So it has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats. And in my institute particularly, that’s responsible for responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging.

MURRAY: Well I hope that we all keep that in mind moving forward. And again I’m proud of folks in my state. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $50 million to scale up emergency operations, Paul G. Allen Foundation has contributed $9 million to open emergency operations sites in the three most affected countries. 

Dr. Robinson and Director Bell, knowing that the  Gates and Allen foundations have stepped up that  way, and the money that is going to be included in the CR, thank you to the appropriations chair who is sitting next to me, is that enough money and global support to stop this global outbreak?

DR. BELL: I’ll answer Senator for the CDC. We do appreciate the $30 million that is in the CR, that amount of money is enough to keep us operating through the end of the continuing resolution on December 11th. It will allow us to keep our people in the field, to pay for our staff, and to begin to scale up in a way that we think is necessary. We will be considering over the time period of the CR what additional resources we will need for the rest of the fiscal year in order to fulfill our responsibilities and respond to the Ebola outbreak in a way that we know we need to.

MURRAY: Dr. Robinson?

DR. ROBINSON: You know the $58 million that we requested will get us through this fall. If we want more vaccines and more therapeutics, there will have to be more funding for us to go forward.