JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 15, 2011
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who was a driving force behind that administration's Africa initiative, writes plaintively about GOP cuts to programs he helped create:
Senegal is conducting indoor spraying campaigns and providing effective, new combination drug treatments. Volunteers are going door to door in impoverished neighborhoods, instructing women in the proper use of nets.
The result? From 2005 to 2008, mortality among Senegalese children ages 6 and under dropped by a third, with reductions in malaria playing a major role. Some communities that had experienced 70 to 80 percent malaria prevalence during the high season of one year reported not a single case in the next.
It is a sophisticated, successful national effort. But it would not be possible without the help of the United States, provided through the Peace Corps, the President's Malaria Initiative and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
As I was visiting hospitals and health huts in Senegal, I was also receiving e-mailed updates on House GOP budget cuts. The Global Fund, down 40 percent. Child survival programs, which include anti-malaria efforts, down 10 percent. AIDS relief, down 8 percent. Development assistance, down 30 percent.
Gerson scoffs at the notion that "fiscal responsibility" is driving these cuts. ("No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation.") Well, sure. But the massive drop in tax receipts caused by the Bush tax cuts has starved the government of revenue and made it inevitable that programs commanding the least political clout would face serious cuts. It may be mathematically possible to draw up a budget that keeps Bush-era tax rates and the Africa initiative and maintains low deficits, but it's not politically realistic. The flaw in Gerson's thinking is the fundamental flaw of the whole "compassionate conservative" project: It was never able to explain how Gersonian levels of government spending could be reconciled with Norquistian levels of taxes.