President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Obama administration also sought a $47.572 million cut to the stockpile in fiscal 2013, a $38.190 million cut to the stockpile in fiscal 2014, and a smaller drop of at least several million dollars in fiscal 2015.
However, the Budget Control Act -- legislation passed after the Tea Party wave mandating a bipartisan “super committee” find ways to cut discretionary spending or else trigger across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration" -- became law in August 2011 and influenced those cuts, the Biden campaign told Fox News.
Indeed, the Obama administration's budget requests implicitly reference the Budget Control Act several times. The fiscal 2013 budget, for example, states that the "current fiscal climate necessitates scaling back" even though the SNS is a "key resource."
And, the fiscal 2015 budget states: "CDC has always sought to maximize the effectiveness of resources and investments, and is even more focused on doing so in the current fiscal environment."
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Even as those cuts took place, the Biden adviser told Fox News, the Obama administration worked to "modernize the strategic stockpile." The line-by-line budget cuts, the adviser said, could mislead because the "qualitative story of the stockpile of those years is actually one of modernization" -- particularly concerning the mass production of masks and the ability to reuse masks. Those plans weren't acted on by the Trump administration, the Biden adviser said.
Not so, the Trump campaign counters.
“Sleepy Joe doesn’t want to accept responsibility for leaving America unprepared for a pandemic, but the facts are the facts," Trump campaign Deputy Director of Communications Matt Wolking told Fox News. "Biden made no effort to replenish the supply of masks in the Strategic National Stockpile after the 2009 swine flu, despite multiple warnings from experts."
Wolking continued: "Biden’s administration also repeatedly tried to cut funding for the stockpile, including before any budget caps existed. Regardless, the Obama-Biden budget proposals repeatedly ignored the caps, so they are no excuse. Biden’s defenses simply don’t hold water."
The Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks prompted the Obama administration to seek budget supplementals that could have replenished the SNS by 2016, but securing congressional authorization proved challenging. In 2016, when Congress green-lit funds to combat the Zika virus, the CDC received less than half of what the Obama administration sought.
The Trump administration's fiscal 2021 budget request, released in February, said the stockpile's funding should be maintained at $705 million. Fox News has reported that the George W. Bush administration was heavily focused on pandemic response beginning in 2005, including by greatly expanding the stockpile and implementing war games and regular briefings -- but those efforts weren't maintained in the following decade.
In its own statement to Fox News, the Biden campaign took aim squarely at the current administration, while blaming Congress for past budget constraints.
"The Obama-Biden administration maintained consistent funding for the Strategic National Stockpile in the midst of a massive budget squeeze, put together a White House office and comprehensive playbook focused on pandemic response, and successfully handled dangerous outbreaks in 2009 and 2014," Biden campaign spokesperson Michael Gwin told Fox News.
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"Instead of building on the strong foundation left to him by the Obama-Biden administration, Trump scrapped the office, threw out the playbook, and wasted months ignoring the threat of the coronavirus instead of securing ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other life-saving supplies," Gwin continued.