Over at the New Republic Alec MacGillis actually takes the time to visit the National Institutes of Health (and the WWII monument):
I decided it was time to head off for another place affected by the shutdown: the National Institutes of Health. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal had reported word from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins that “about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center for clinical trials each week will be turned away.” This, Collins said, included “about 30 children, most of them cancer patients.”
I had mentioned this fact to Huizenga, the Michigan Republican, asking if he might head off to protest that as well, and he said he had not heard about the NIH impact. And when I got up to Bethesda, it was plain that he was not alone in this, for there was no equivalent to the World War II Memorial scrum awaiting me there.
Having been through NIH and the Children’s Inn so often with his son, Vogel said he couldn’t imagine what the uncertainty was like for other families. “For most, this is the last resort for treatment,” he said. “When you’re around here, you see these people coming through and you try to imagine what it’s like for someone who needs to come finding out that they can’t. Because there’s really no other option for them.”
It’s a studied contrast in the conservative activist response to the shutdown. Barricading open-air monuments is pretty silly, and given the history of the WWII monument any chance that veterans have for visiting should obviously be allowed. Sending kids and sick patients away from their last-ditch effort to get well? They hadn’t heard of that happening.
At least congressional Republicans had gotten the memo. Today they proceeded to offer piecemeal legislation on opening some of the discretionary functions they like, as well as funding the NIH to continue clinical trials. The effort went nowhere, for the all the reasons Matt Yglesias lists here. Moreover, this ‘patching’ of NIH funding would be an incredibly inept way to help these patients. Yet a hilariously misconstrued Harry Reid statement led to a somewhat self-righteous movement of conservatives claiming that Democrats don’t care about kids with cancer.
The effort was a little rich, even beyond the obvious point that they’re essentially complaining about a fire after lighting the match themselves. Republicans were offering to restore those funds because children with cancer being turned away from treatment is an easily objectionable side-effect of shutting the government down. It also looks pretty bad in an already-lost messaging war, especially when the cause of the shutdown is a complete inability to vote for a continuing resolution that doesn’t deny millions access to health insurance (and thus the health care system). But the unfortunate irony doesn’t stop there; the NIH has already been hit with a planned 1.7 billion in cuts due to sequestration. Were those (equally harmful) reductions, triumphed by Republicans, included in the piecemeal legislation championed by House Republicans today?
Of course not.
Look, I don’t write that to claim that Republicans in the House don’t care about sick, desperate, kids. I’m writing this because I’m guessing most didn’t think about this specific type of impact when shutting down the discretionary portion of the budget. This area (although comparatively small to the mandatory side) happens to fund numerous programs that are very helpful to people — programs that most folks don’t know anything about normally. When the funding stops, well, we get reports of empty children’s hospitals, Head Start buildings, and unfulfilled WIC applications. These actions have real, deleterious, results. It’s those impacts that ultimately matter, not whether the ulterior motives of those pursing such policies are inherently spiteful. So when I say that my Republican Representative is choosing to shut the government down because he doesn’t want to fund insurance coverage for millions of Americans, I’m describing the ramifications of his intent, not his motivations. Other things being equal, I don’t really care why he really made that decision. I care about the consequences.