Barack Obama’s efforts to replenish America’s stockpile of protective equipment for healthcare workers were repeatedly blocked by Republican lawmakers, an investigation has found.
The investigation by ProPublica found requests for funding to purchase protective equipment and train medical staff to prepare for future outbreaks were denied by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that was filled with Tea Party-affiliated politicians.
Citing budget documents, as was as administration and congressional officials involved in negotiations, the report discovered that “had Congress kept funding at the 2010 level through the end of the Obama administration, the stockpile would have benefited from $321m (£259m) more than it ended up getting.”
Healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients across the country have complained about a lack of proper protective equipment. Many are having to reuse masks, which puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus.
As the coronavirus has continued to spread across the US in recent weeks, Donald Trump has repeatedly tried to shift blame for shortfalls in the government’s response to the outbreak onto his predecessor. Speaking last month, the US president said the Obama administration “made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing.” It was unclear exactly what decision the president was referring to.
Mr Trump has also blamed the Obama administration and state governors for shortages of protective equipment for healthcare workers across the country.
Earlier this month he said he had “inherited a broken system.” He added: “They also gave us empty cupboards. The cupboard was bare … So we took over a stockpile with a cupboard that was bare.”
In fact, Mr Obama’s efforts to build up the stockpile and prepare for the next outbreak were stymied by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that was heavily influenced by Tea Party-affiliated politicians elected on promises of cutting back government spending.
Speaking in 2014, Mr Obama argued it was necessary to set up a “public health infrastructure that we need to deal with potential outbreaks in the future.”
He said: “There may and likely will come a time in which we have both an airborne disease that is deadly, and in order for us to deal with that effectively we have to put in place an infrastructure, not just here at home but globally, that allows us to see it quickly, isolate it quickly, respond to it quickly, so that if and when a new strain of flu like the Spanish flu crops up five years from now or a decade from now, we’ve made the investment and we’re further along to be able to catch it.”
At the time, the former president was asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to prepare the US for future pandemics, but the request was rejected by Republican politicians.
The funding was a small part of an emergency request for $6.18bn (£3.98bn) to deal with the Ebola epidemic in 2014. As part of that package, hundreds of millions were to be set aside to help the country prepare for the next outbreak by procuring personal protective equipment for the country’s strategic national stockpile and training medical staff.
Most of that money was eventually secured, but funding for the future preparedness programmes was reduced. According to ProPublica, only $165m (£132m) went to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health emergency preparedness programmes, which included the stockpile.