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Mikulski Sets Senate Ebola Hearing Two Days After Elections (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:15 p.m. | As the threat of the Ebola virus in the United States appears to be easing, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski announced she would hold a hearing on the issue two days after voters are scheduled to go to the polls.  

The hearing is set for Nov. 6, and would be the first in the Democratic-run Senate since the first U.S. Ebola case was discovered in Dallas. The hearing could take on increased urgency if the Obama administration follows through on sending over a supplemental spending request. A Democratic aide said appropriators were told to expect a request for Ebola funding as soon as this week but did not have any details on its scope or whether it would be designated as emergency funding.  

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, has been pushing for a new hearing on Ebola. Moran visited the University of Kansas hospital last week, where he said the situation had changed since a joint hearing last month of the Appropriations subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  

“Over the past few weeks, I have been working with the Senate Appropriations Labor/HHS Subcommittee Chairman to schedule a hearing on Ebola as there have been serious developments since the Subcommittee’s last hearing on this important issue. Ebola is now more than just a West African issue, it has become a real issue here in the United States,” Moran said in a Monday statement to CQ Roll Call.  

Moran, who is the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, no doubt knows that several of the most-targeted Democratic incumbents sit on the Appropriations Committee.  

“We were told by the Senate Appropriations Committee that a Senate hearing on Ebola would not take place until after the election,” he said. “While I believe a hearing should not be delayed to make certain there is the appropriate funding to work to solve this crisis as well as an effective organizational structure that can coordinate a response, I look forward to participating in the full Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing on November 6.”  

The Senate hearing comes as California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, plans a hearing Friday looking into the Obama administration’s handling of the health crisis.  

Issa’s hearing follows an Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing last week, in which Democrats sought to blame Republicans for budget cuts to medical research that might have helped curb the spread of Ebola in the United States.  

The GOP dismissed the criticism, citing the fact that none of the witnesses testifying, including leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, asked for more money.  

The hearing also became a forum for two Senate candidates who are currently House members. Both lawmakers, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Bruce Braley of Iowa, took time off from the stump to return to the Capitol for the hearing.  

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has urged House Republicans to return immediately to Washington to address the funding issue.  

The White House has also sought to blunt criticism by appointing former Vice President Biden chief of staff Ron Klain as their Ebola point person, or czar.  

The timing of Mikulski’s Senate hearing, coming two days after the midterms, may be may be designed to move the debate past some of the election-fueled partisanship that has erupted in the wake of the CDC’s fumbled Ebola response.  

Still, control of the Senate could still be hanging in the the balance: The elections of some Democrats on the spending panel may not be settled, including Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska.  

The Senate hearing also comes as Ebola, as a political issue, could be waning.  

More than 40 people who came into contact with Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan have been officially cleared after not showing any symptoms during a 21-day monitoring period, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday, according to CNN.  

Nigeria has been declared free of Ebola and a Spanish nurse who had caught the virus while caring for infected patients has been declared free of the virus.  

Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

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