The President's Emergency Funding Request on Ebola

The White House this week requested an additional $6.18 billion in discretionary appropriations for the current fiscal year to cover the costs associated with mitigating the Ebola outbreak.

Of the additional funding, three-quarters is for the immediate response to tackle Ebola, while the remaining amount is part of a contingency fund to “ensure that there are resources available to meet unforeseen changes in the epidemic.” The emergency spending would go to various health agencies as well as international efforts to combat the spread of Ebola. The full breakdown of the request is as follows.

Administration Supplemental Spending Request by Category
Category FY 2015 Spending
Department of State and International Assistance Programs $2.1 billion
     US Agency for International Development (USAID) $1.98 billion
     Diplomatic Operations (Department of State) $36 million
     Contributions to International Organizations $85 million
     Bio-safety Training $5.6 million
Department of Defense (DARPA) $112 million
Department of Health and Human Services $2.43 billion
     Centers for Disease Control and Prevention $1.83 billion
     Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund $333 million
     National Institutes of Health $238 million
     Food and Drug Administration $25 million
Contingency Fund $1.54 billion
Total, President's Request $6.18 billion

Source: OMB

This request passes the smell test for emergency designations: an Ebola outbreak was sudden and unforeseen, and the additional spending is urgent, necessary, and temporary to counteract this possible global health crisis. Ebola is an example of why we have the emergency designation, a designation unfortunately often abused to pay for non-emergencies like the VA bill or the Census.

Still, Congress and the President should proceed with some caution. $1.5 billion of the request is in the form of a “contingency fund,” which may or may not meet the test of urgency and which certainly must not be used for unrelated purposes.

It is also important to recognize that even though this is a genuine emergency, this request will add to the deficit, and so it would be preferable if Congress and the President were able to agree to a package of offsets.

But more to the point, emergencies like this are an important example of why the country needs to be on sounder fiscal ground. At the current record-high debt level, every increase in the deficits must (rightly) be debated carefully to make sure it is worth the cost, and at some points it may prove difficult to pay for larger and more financially significant emergencies. Getting our fiscal house in order would leave the government far better prepared to deal with urgent needs as they arise.