As I noted yesterday, one of the more appalling casualties of the government shutdown has been funding for the National Institutes for Health, which has had to start turning away the roughly 200 patients, including children with cancer, who come to it each week for treatment in clinical trials. This is obviously a bit of an optics problem for the Republican party. So as part of its strategy of pushing bills that would selectively fund discrete, visible pieces of the government, such as the District of Columbia and the National Parks Service, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has also proposed restoring the NIH budget.
This is not sitting well with the Democrats. Per The Wall Street Journal today:
“I would like to guarantee that the people who are suffering, not getting treatment at the NIH could be answered tomorrow,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement. “For the Democrats to say we’re going to play a political game and we’re not going to help those kids – we’re really tired of playing games.”
Democrats rejected the approach.
“It’s time for Republicans to stop throwing one crazy idea after another at the wall, in hopes that something will stick,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said when the Senate opened on Wednesday. “Nothing is stuck. There’s been a sensible plan to reopen the government right in front of House Republicans all along.”
Meanwhile, Cantor tweeted out the President’s official veto threat:
President Obama has just threatened to veto funding bills for NIH kids, veterans, nat’l parks, nat’l guard & DC. pic.twitter.com/ofe2ucn7vA
— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) October 2, 2013
It’s bold of Cantor to accuse anybody of “playing political games.” We’re talking about a shutdown that’s essentially been triggered by 30 to 40 hardcore conservatives in the House who have decided that, since they couldn’t unseat the president in an actual election, they’re entitled to take the entire government hostage in an attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act. It’s also not in the country’s long-term interests to fund government on a line-by-line basis depending on whatever public-service deficiencies are making the loudest headlines. That makes government shutdown seem like a palatable alternative to government and rewards dangerous brinksmanship.
But this is a special case. While funding the government piecemeal is a generally dangerous idea, we are, in this specific instance, talking about dying men, women, and children, not to mention crucial research that could save lives. Obama has already signed a bill to specially pay for the military. Cancer patients seem no less deserving than soldiers.
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