WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $6.2 billion in emergency funds to confront Ebola at its source in West Africa and to secure the United States against any possible spread.
Administration officials say $2 billion would be apportioned to the United States Agency for International Development and $2.4 billion would go to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than $1.5 billion would be for a contingency fund.
The Ebola money is the first request from Obama in the aftermath of an election that ushered in a Republican-controlled Congress, which is being seen as a repudiation of the president. The Ebola crisis has received bipartisan attention amid concerns over the potential of the disease to spread into the United States.
The White House is asking for prompt action, meaning it wants approval during the current lame duck session, while Democrats are still in control of the Senate.
Republicans have been especially critical of the administration's domestic response, criticizing its coordination with states and questioning the security measures it has put in place. Still, less than a handful of cases have materialized in the United States. One patient who contracted the disease in Liberia died in Dallas, two nurses who treated him became infected but eventually recovered and one doctor who returned from West Africa where he was treating Ebola patients became sick and is now under care in a hospital in New York City.
The nearly $2 billion for USAID and $127 million for the Department of State would help carry out the U.S. anti-Ebola mission in West Africa. More than $2.4 billion would go HHS, but administration officials would not break down the request on the basis of what was to be used to fight the disease overseas and what was meant to boost defenses in the United States. The Pentagon would get about $112 million.
Two administration officials described the request to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it by name ahead of the announcement.
The $4.64 billion in immediate spending would be used to strengthen the public health system in the U.S., combat the epidemic in West Africa, and speed up the development and testing of vaccines and other therapies. The money also would be used to help vulnerable foreign countries detect and respond to the disease.
House Speaker John Boehner's office said appropriators would review the request.
"We'll continue to work with our members and the administration to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the public from a deadly disease," Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said.
In making its case for the request, Obama faces a challenge of reassuring the public that Ebola is a difficult disease to contract here in the United States while at the same time insisting that stopping the virus at its West Africa source remains an urgent priority.
The public's attention has waned since the federal government and the governors of New York and New Jersey clashed over quarantine guidelines for returning travelers from the afflicted region. Absent a new case in the U.S., the focus has turned back to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the disease has cost nearly 5,000 lives.
Wednesday's request is in addition to steps the administration already has taken to attack the disease in Africa and to set up a defense in the U.S. Obama has authorized the Pentagon to deploy up to 4,000 service members to West Africa to build Ebola treatment units, a hospital for infected health care workers in the afflicted region and training for communities in how to conduct safe burials of victims.
One official said they were seeing signs in Liberia of a decrease in the rate of incidents, but that clusters of the diseases were appearing in some parts of the country. The official also said the incidence rate was increasing significantly in Sierra Leone.
"Scale and speed have an impact," the official said, referring to the international response. "But we're by no means out of the woods yet."