The Bush administration this week proposed a $531 million reduction in the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and public health advocacy groups are lashing out at the money-saving measure.
President Bush's proposed fiscal 2006 budget includes a 6.6 percent funding cutback for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to an analysis from Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit organization in Washington. Administration officials have indicated they are looking to sharply restrict federal spending that is not related to national security.
"The budget proposed [Monday] paints a grim picture and raises many red flags," said Daniel Smith, vice president for government relations at the American Cancer Society. "Cancer doesn't understand budget deficits, and the research that is currently outpacing this disease has no layaway policy."
At a press conference in Washington on Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said the budget is "fiscally responsible" and makes some "tough choices."
"If we had an unlimited budget, we would spend more on many programs, since we don't we have focused money on the most urgent priorities that will make the biggest difference in the health and well-being of Americans," he said.
On Tuesday, an HHS official said the funding reduction at CDC was a result of construction projects that are finished. Agency spokesman Bill Pierce accused critics of not reading the budget carefully before making their allegations.
"The vast majority of reduction in CDC spending is for building projects that have been completed," Pierce said. Several outside groups, however, provided specific criticism for health-related funding that is subject to the proposed cuts. According to budget documents, the "Buildings and Facilities" budget line was reduced by $239 million-about 45 percent of the overall proposed budget cut.
"While public health is being asked to take on more challenges than ever before to keep America healthy, limiting resources is the last thing we should do," said Michael Earls, a spokesman for Trust for America's Health. "The proposed cuts to CDC are against the wishes of the American people and the best advice of health experts."
A coalition of public health groups appealed to the White House last year as well after Bush proposed a strict limit to nondefense spending. Congress provided some additional funding, however, for many programs that were endangered by the White House's fiscal 2005 proposed budget.
The American Public Health Association noted that the proposed fiscal 2006 White House budget includes several public health highlights-including a boost in funding for community health centers and flu vaccine. On the whole, however, APHA was critical of the proposed budget. Specifically, the organization assailed a $60 million cut to the CDC's chronic disease prevention and health promotion program. APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin said the nation's defenses against biological terrorism will also be weakened if the new budget is passed in its current form.
"The administration's failure to adequately invest in prevention means that any perceived short-term savings will result in greater health and medical expenditures in the long-term," said Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director. "It's like owning a car, but never taking it in for service. Without prevention, catastrophic failure is imminent."