Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is urging his colleagues to oppose President Barack Obama's request for $1 billion to fight the spread of Ebola, in part because the plan "focuses on Africa" instead of "our own borders."
As of Friday afternoon, WHO put the death toll from the disease at more than 4,000. All of them have been in Africa, except one man in the U.S. who contracted Ebola while in Liberia and two Spanish priests who died after being repatriated from West Africa with the disease.
Vitter aired his objections in a letter to top members of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees Wednesday. He said the administration had not fully briefed Congress on its plans and was "not exercising its ongoing powers of implementing its authority under federal immigration law to bar the entry of a foreign national on specific health-related grounds." From the letter:
I believe there is sufficient evidence that passengers coming from these countries would qualify as a direct threat given their potential for carrying the disease. Instead of using powers given to him, the President is requesting $1 billion for a plan that has not been presented to members of Congress, focuses on Africa, and largely ignores our own borders.
Nevertheless, this drastic increase to more than $1 billion and the previous nearly $300 million already provided warrants full Congressional consideration, not simply a closed door briefing to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees staff. Members of Congress continue to have specific questions related to the manner in which this $1 billion dollars will be used, and those should be addressed directly by the appropriate official.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had a similar complaint on Wednesday, saying on Fox News that while his "prayers" were "obviously with the thousands of people in West Africa who've been afflicted with this terrible disease," the "top concern of the U.S. government should be protecting the American people."
Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has argued that protecting Americans is largely a matter of stopping Ebola in Africa.
"The health of Americans is our top priority," he said during a press conference this week. "We recognize that whatever we do until the disease is controlled in Africa, we can't get the risk to zero here."
There have been more than 8,000 cases of Ebola so far. According to the Washington Post, "The number of Ebola cases in West Africa has been doubling about every three weeks. There is little evidence so far that the epidemic is losing momentum."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold increase in international aid this week to fight Ebola.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the members who needed to sign off on the Ebola aid, had been blocking increased funding. However, he gave his OK on Friday, freeing up the money.
This post has been updated to note that Sen. James Inhofe OK'd the funding Friday. This article has also been updated with more recent statistics from the World Health Organization, and to include reference to the deaths of two Spanish Ebola patients who were initially omitted.
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