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Vestal: Budget cutter’s plea for millions more in spending shows duality

Wed., Aug. 3, 2011, midnight

On Friday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers issued two news releases.

One was full of tiresome rhetorical ballast about the deficit and the debt ceiling. The House had just passed a stunt bill it knew would not clear the Senate; McMorris Rodgers referred to this as a “balanced” approach. She urged the president and the Senate to do what was best for the country, as if to say: If only you cared about the country, you would agree with us. She trumpeted the doomed legislation’s ability to “wind down” the deficit and get on a path toward even more budget cutting – “all without raising taxes.”

The second news release announced Rodgers’ introduction of two bills to spend millions more in taxpayer money on an enormous, government-run, health care boondoggle.

The two bills – titled the Trisomy 21 Research Resource Act of 2011 and the Trisomy 21 Centers of Excellence Act of 2011 – will grossly expand the bureaucracy within the Institutes of National Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding new programs, establishing registries, creating an entirely new “consortium,” and setting up six new “research centers” around the country. The cost of all this goes curiously unmentioned in the news release – but the research centers alone would run $6 million, according to one advocacy group.

But that’s merely the tip of the pork-berg. McMorris Rodgers – who unsuccessfully tried to grab stimulus funding for this boondoggle – has urged the federal government to triple the amount it spends on this particular research. Triple it! To $51 million a year! And a major focus of that request – which Rodgers made to the NIH along with Rep. Patrick Kennedy in 2009 – involves urging the government to subsidize the purchase of research mice. Not to mention that the letter sneaks in a little appeal to the pagan god Diversity: Since the subject of the research affects people of all kinds, “the lack of funding for research on the condition further contributes to significant health care disparities.”

Good grief. This is how we got into this mess to begin with: Multiculturalism! Subsidized $200 mice! Worrying about ethnic disparities! Extra-constitutional expenditures! Kennedys!

Cue the fifes and drums: Stop the spending! No! No! No!

Only … yes, yes, yes. The bills would direct resources toward research into Down syndrome. As you probably know, Rodgers has a young child with that condition, and she has become a potent advocate for people who have it and their families. Good for her. And just to be clear: She’s talking about budget priorities involving figures that are, for the federal budget, quite small, and not encouraging anything crazy like new taxes.

As if that needed saying.

Still and all, it’s interesting how the big, bad government – you know, the one that is the problem – becomes a benefactor, a force for good, a needed resource, in one quick hop between news releases.

In case it’s not obvious, my argument here is purposefully ridiculous. An intentional distortion of the truth that is not quite completely removed from the truth. Kind of like calling the new health care reform law a “job killer” or a “costly government takeover.” Or insisting that it “rations care” or puts “government in charge of health care decisions.”

Or calling the debt ceiling approach in the House “balanced.”

I’m not trying to make more of this than it’s worth. We spend a lot of time sniffing out the other guy’s venal hypocrisy in this country – if you’re reading this online, just look below to find someone unearthing mine – and I can see how McMorris Rodgers might reconcile these points of view, different as they are from my own.

And yet it struck me as a tidy example of our dual attitudes toward government. On the one hand, it’s a big, bloated monster that we can cut with abandon, and whose cutting will lead to all kinds of magical, improbable things, like new jobs and a perky economy.

This is the part of the government that affects other people.

On the other hand, if we need to do some science or subsidize a farmer, we’ll buddy up with the monster, on the down-low. Because this is the part of the government that affects us.

In the 2009 letter to the NIH, McMorris Rodgers makes the kind of appeal for funding that sounds positively pinko – striking notes of compassion, urgency, understanding and fairness as a way of urging government spending for the well-being of society.

Increased funding is “critically important,” she writes, not only to the 400,000 people with Down syndrome, but also to people who suffer from a wide variety of illnesses who might someday be helped by the research. It notes that other diseases that affect fewer people get more money, and that there are several crucial areas of inquiry that science could be productively pursuing right now. It points out that funding for Down syndrome research has plummeted in recent years from $23 million in 2003 to $17 million in 2008, arguing this is a “particularly acute” problem that requires government action.

OK, then. I’m on board. Let’s do this, American taxpaying people. Join me and Cathy McMorris Rodgers in supporting increased government spending on Down syndrome research.

Some things are too important to be left to the private sector.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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